Sexual harassment happens very often but barely discussed by many. As per Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is prohibited by law whether it is outside or inside the office. Hence, the main goal of creating this policy is to give the best definition of sexual harassment in the workplace. As well as to establish an outline procedure for all the employees to follow regarding how to file a complaint. Set standards for proper and fair investigation about sexual harassment claims. Also, generate rules about giving appropriate disciplinary measures in the case of misdemeanor and violations.
It is indeed confusing when and how sexual harassment can be identified at all times. Because if you think about it, deciding whether an act, gesture, or word is done or delivered in a malicious manner, it always depends on the recipient. There are different kinds of people. Some love to joke around; while some are too conservative. If a goofy employee throws green jokes to a reserved co-worker. It is not impossible that one might get offended at some point. That is exactly the reason why having a vivid procedure to follow is very important. And making sure that everyone in the company understands the meaning of sexual harassment. By that, intentional and unintentional conflict can be avoided.
In designing a policy to be followed by all, the most important things to do are making clear definitions, rules, and procedures. How so? First, be specific about the definitions of the things that are prohibited. The term “ sexual harassment “ is already complex. And using vague definitions about it will just bring confusion and misunderstanding for some. So instead of just saying “ unwelcome gestures “ make some examples. Give clear and concrete definitions.
What is Considered Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment truly encompasses a complex range of conduct and expressions. It can be physical, verbal, and emotional. Its scope is quite broad in meaning for some. Therefore, educating ourselves about it is a must in order to protect ourselves as well as to properly apply the sexual harassment-free workplace that we are aiming for. Here are some examples of specifically prohibited conduct:
- Physical Harassment – This is the most known type of harassment. Often times many think that once you are touched without your permission, that is the only time that you can consider it as “ sexual harassment “. But that is completely wrong. Harassment has many forms. Physical harassment is one of those. Examples of physical harassment are: Rape, molestation, sexual battery/ sexual assault, unwelcome gesture, and physical advances such as unnecessary touching of your shoulder, poking, pinching, holding your hands, rubbing one’s body, kissing, patting and grabbing.
- Verbal and Emotional Harassment – These types of harassment are usually taken for granted. Since commenting on fowl and hateful things to others are pretty common nowadays. But these types of harassment should never be neglected. Here are the examples: Request for sexual favors ( may or may not be in return for a favor, promotion or appraisal ) offensive remarks about a person’s gender/gender preference, cat-calling ( calling someone “hot” ) whistle, making noises in a sexual way, remarks, green jokes, and even teasing someone about their appearance and sexual experience. Once a person went through any form of sexual harassment; the feeling of being emotionally harassed is no surprise. One may not be able to work properly and some may not even be able to go to work at all.
There are also other forms of sexual harassment in a situational manner such as:
– Display of sexually suggestive images or pictures inside the workplace in any form; whether through computer, cellphone, and drawings.
-Refusal of the harasser to assist the victim due to rejection or submission for sexual overtures. If happens that the harasser is superior to the victim. Not doing his/her job by taking revenge on the victim is also a form of sexual harassment.
Once the definition is clear. The second thing that needs to do is set the rules and procedures.
The sexual harassment policy is applied to whom?
- Company owner, clients, managers, supervisors, employees, guests, vendors, guards, utilities, and anyone else who’s inside the building that is working in the company or doing business with the company. Also, anyone who’s working with the company that is assigned to different locations or attended a gathering, training, seminar, and company outings.
Who is allowed to file or report a harassment complaint?
- Any employee on any level can report or file a harassment complaint if he/she feels that they are being harassed.
- Anyone who witnessed sexual harassment and has proof or reliable testimony.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed. It can be anyone who is affected by the offensive behavior. For example, the closest co-worker/ friend of the actual person that was harassed. He/she can report the sexual harassment that happened to his/her friend to the HR.
When does sexual harassment act can be considered illegal?
- When the victim’s rejection or submission is used as a factor in decisions that affect the victim’s employment.
- When the harasser’s purpose for doing the sexual harassment act is to harm and interferes with the victim’s performance. However, even if it’s not intended to affect the victim’s work. If the sexual harassment caused the victim to feel hostile, intimidated, and cause its lack of performance; still it is illegal.
3 Steps to process a sexual harassment complaint
- Gather all the necessary information – The victim should make sure to keep documentation of the sexual harassment. If anyone experiences sexual harassment; they must take note of everything. The date, day, time, and place. Write down the details. Express in words how they exactly feel at that time. Make full documentation and save it in a safe email address or flash drive. Be cautious in saving proof. If in any case that the harasser is someone higher than the victim; they may have access to the emails and can delete whatever the victim is keeping. Doing this is very important because no one can just accuse someone without any proof. Also, if there are any witnesses that will be a great help. Ask for their cooperation in case there will be an investigation. Be very clear that what they know should be kept private. And even after the complaint was officially filed, never share information to people that are not involved. Think of it as a preparation for a big battle. With or without a witness; if the victim has concrete documentation that alone should be hard to deny.
- Seek guidance – In any company, an employee should always ask first for their one-up’s assistance. Let’s say that the harasser is not higher than the victim. In that situation, the victim can ask and report to their superior once all proofs are ready and documented. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Protecting their subordinates is the supervisor and manager’s job.
- Submit all proofs to Human Resources – The victim together with the supervisor/manager should go to Human Resources to officially file a complaint. Once the filing is done. An investigation must start right away. Human resources are there to secure the peace inside the workplace. It is a safe place for all employees at all levels. Hence, make sure to tell everything once the investigation starts.
Aim for a just and fair Investigation
During the investigation, all the involved employees must make a statement. The victim, harasser, and witness if there’s any. It will be handled by the human resources staff. They will delegate employees to facilitate and conduct the investigation. However, there are situations where one or more participants in this investigation can be withdrawn in the case. Before the investigation proceeds; all must know first if any of the participants have any conflict of interest with anyone involved, such as:
- When the investigator who will handle the situation is unfortunately acquainted with anyone involved in the complaint. For example, the investigator is an old friend of the harasser. To avoid conflict, the investigator should be withdrawn in the case and replaced by someone who has no connection with anyone involved. By this, all will be confident that there will be no unfair judgment. Moreover, the employees’ trust in the company will be more concrete.
- If the witness/witnesses have a conflict of interest either with the victim or harasser. For example, the witness is a subordinate of the harasser. He/she asked for a promotion before but was not qualified enough. As a result, he/she felt a grudge towards the superior (harasser).
Anything that can affect the process and outcome of the investigation must be removed from the case. This policy has zero-tolerance when it comes to unfair judgment. That is why all must be vigilant even before the investigation starts.
After the necessary measures and investigation have been done. Providing a disciplinary action as soon as possible is one of the main goals. The company must act as fast as they can to avoid any retaliation. Give the right disciplinary action depending on the severity of the violation/misdemeanor. If worse comes to worst that the complaint needs to reach court; the company must contact its insurance provider for assistance. It is one of the reasons why having a clear sexual harassment policy, as well as proper training about it, are vital in a company. If in any case that the complaint wasn’t able to settle inside the company because it is too serious and fatal. The chance that the company will be held liable is way smaller. As long as the company can prove that they provided all the necessary training, clear sexual harassment policy, and conduct a fair investigation. There should be no problem in the future.
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