Back Off, Jack! Is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Still an Issue? | DCR Workforce Blog

Back Off, Jack! Is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Still an Issue?

There are times when I feel that reading the daily newspaper is the most painful thing to do in a day, and sometimes wonder why I would do that of my own volition!  The depressing coverage of acts of violence, terrorism, sexual harassment are the stuff nightmares are made of and make for very disturbing reading. But no one really knows what they can do to completely eradicate such scourges of civil society.

Workplaces can be friendly and comfortable or scary and threatening – depending on what your experience of them is! Every workplace needs to work hard to ensure a safe work environment and to make them friendly and comfortable for the employees.

It’s not enough for employers to lay down values and standards of performance and to expect their workers to not behave in unethical ways. No one knowingly wishes to allow a person with a record of sexual harassment to quietly come on board and start harassing innocent women colleagues who accept them at face value. But what can employers do to ensure that sexual harassment is not a workplace issue anymore?

Eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace

Ensuring protection from harassment in the workplace may not be easy but it’s also not completely impossible to achieve. Committed employers can put safeguards in place to ensure a safe workplace by setting zero-tolerance policies and establishing processes which ensure the safety of the women at the workplace to banish sexual harassment in the workplace.

The protection is assured by Title VII and applies equally to contingent workers as well as permanent workers. Below are some tips:

  • Employers can ensure that their screening process is thorough and reliable. They may also establish the processes to screen their existing workers on an ongoing basis. Learning about a worker’s checkered background, which clearly establishes a pattern of unacceptable behavior, after the event is something an employer needs to avoid at all costs.
  • When providing personal references for an ex-employee, even a contingent worker, no employer should try to conceal the truth and provide a false testimony or positive feedback. It’s in their own self-interest as they will have to face the legal repercussions should the worker fall foul of the law through his or her actions at the new job posting.
  • When seeking personal references from an employee’s ex-employer, do look for any inconsistency in the feedback provided by matching it with your own (or the worker’s immediate manager’s) opinion of the worker, on that particular attribute.
  • When engaging workers on a seasonal basis, do not ignore the possibility that the person may have subsequently acquired a history of sexual misconduct, which should raise a red flag but would be missed. Make sure that you run a background check on seasonal employees at least once a year, if you want to save on the costs, or prepare to be held responsible for negligent hiring and/or negligent retention.
  • Fresh background checks may be called for when a trusted worker is shifted to a new role and asked to work with patients or senior citizens who may be vulnerable to an attack.
  • Never allow a worker to continue working for you once you come to know of their propensity to deviant behavior like sexual harassment. Do not condone carrying weapons to the workplace unless required by the person’s role requirements. If the worker is a contingent worker, contact the staffing agency and request for effective corrective measure, including the termination of the worker’s assignment.
  • Provide a harmonious work environment which encourages or insists upon teamwork and supportive behavior. Investigate all complaints thoroughly, entrusting the job to people who are neutral and objective. Have all the information documented.
  • Provide support services which can be approached confidentially when someone needs to report the harassment being faced by them. Keep the lines of communication open and create an atmosphere of trust so employees feel comfortable reporting sexual harassment.
  • Employ additional precautions for individuals working late hours or on lonely assignments. Provide good lighting and other protections like alarms as deemed necessary.

Don’t allow sexual harassment to be swept under the rug

Many times sexual harassment in the workplace goes unreported as the person being harassed is blackmailed into accepting it through threats of retaliation. These could be a demotion, being posted to an unpopular and hard assignment and even pay cuts as well as going all the way to being fired! Sometimes the woman is ashamed of seeking help as in some oblique way she may feel responsible for what’s happening to her.

Whatever the reason, don’t let it be swept under the rug. Let your workplace policy encourage the women to seek help without delay as they can save themselves and possibly save others too because the illegality of the act is unquestionable!

Protection policy in place

Make the effort to draft a well-documented policy that takes different scenarios into consideration with clear instructions to the various stakeholders on the action plan for each of them, in the event of a serious violation of your policies against workplace sexual harassment. Remember to extend such protection from harassment to customers also.

By not providing safe and stress-free working conditions to women at the workplace, employers could lose access to their skills and talent while the country’s economy will be hurt as more women choose to be unremunerated but safe.

Does your company have a sexual harassment policy that it stands by?

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.