One of the most difficult areas for Human Resource departments (HR) is developing and managing policies and handling allegations on sexual harassment. Sexual harassment occurs when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee, against his or her wishes. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, in the United States, that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment occurs, “when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.” Over the past 15 years, the percentage of sexual discrimination charges as a share of all charges brought to the EEOC has remained fairly stable.
Many employers are not aware of sexual harassment activities occurring in their workplace and often times they are surprised when they learn what even constitutes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur in many situations such as the examples listed below. The list is not to be considered all-inclusive and is shown only to provide examples.
- Posting emails or pictures of a sexually related nature.
- Repeated requests for dates that are turned down.
- Unwanted flirting.
- Any body contact such as grabbing an employee around the waist, patting a coworker’s back, or interfering with an employee’s ability to get around the workplace.
- Playing sexually suggestive music.
- Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing.
What is HR’s role in sexual harassment?
HR should develop a sexual and general harassment policy indicating that harassment is not tolerated in the workplace. The policy should also include the procedure for handling sexual harassment investigations. When an employee files a complaint about sexual harassment, an immediate investigation of the charge should occur. Human Resources staff should spearhead and handle the investigation. HR staff should also ensure that employees understand that they have an obligation to report sexual harassment concerns to their supervisor or the Human Resources department. HR should make sure that both the individual filing the complaint and the accused individual are aware of the seriousness of the sexual harassment complaint and explain the policy and investigation procedures to both parties. It is also the responsibility of HR to make sure that all inquiries, complaints and investigations are treated confidentially, and that information is revealed strictly on a need-to-know basis. HR should maintain all information pertaining to a sexual harassment complaint or investigation in secure files and answer all questions relating to the complaints and investigations on behalf of the employer. Legal counsel may also assist based upon the circumstances of the complaint.
Employers must take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring and promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior that has occurred. Prevention is the ultimate objective. Effectively investigating harassment complaints and prompt intervention by HR will assist with this and send a clear message throughout the workplace that harassment is not tolerated.
What are some helpful HR tips for conducting a sexual harassment complaint?
- Familiarize yourself with EEOC guidelines if necessary.
- Report the employee’s complaint as soon as possible.
- Immediately start an investigation.
- Interview all potential witnesses.
- Develop adequate documentation.
- Take steps to avoid retaliation.
- Include confidential complaints.
- Avoid prejudging complaints.
- Always be consistent with your investigations.
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination with significant consequences for employers if not addressed properly. Many employers are not aware of sexual harassment activities occurring in their workplace. HR must take the leading role in developing policies indicating zero tolerance and effectively investigating complaints. The percentage of sex discrimination charges as a share of all charges brought to the EEOC has remained stable, but one poorly handled complaint can cost employers a lot of time and money.
This is a short and quite formal article on the issue of sexual harassment published by HR Affiliates. This subject has been very much in the media recently and is certain to gain greater importance within organizations/companies and particularly the HR area over the next few years.
The article clearly defines what sexual harassment is and encompasses it within the American Civil Rights Act of 1964. It then proceeds to give tips on how companies should deal with this problem and assigns a leading role to HR on how to deal with it.
The article suggests that prompt action should be taken by HR in order to avoid situations where a poorly-handled complaint could cost time and money to employers.
Fairly: is a word that modifies adjectives and its meaning is similar to quite. It means less than very.
Indicating: means to point out and is similar to suggest.
Handling: means literally to manage with one’s hands.
Spearhead: means the leading element or influence.
Prompt: to move to action.
The verb avoid appears on a few occasions in the article and means to keep away from. Furthermore, this verb is always followed by a gerund structure rather than a pure infinitive. For example, we say “I always avoid arriving home late” and not to arrive home late.
We use the gerund form after certain verbs: enjoy, stop, involve, suggest, postpone, deny as well as many other verbs and after prepositions: “I am interested in learning languages and not to learn”.