7 Ways to Mitigate Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace

Feb 3, 2021 | Business Insurance

Sexual harassment is a blight upon professional working environments. Harassment of this nature is the kind of thing that can cause employees to feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work. Your work environment will never be good as long as even one employee thinks they are unsafe at work.

Therefore, it is crucial for every workplace to mitigate sexual misconduct in every way they know how. But many employers are unfamiliar with how to address, detect, and handle sexual misconduct at work.

The best way to handle sexual misconduct is to prevent it in the first place. Keep reading for seven ways to mitigate sexual harassment at work.

1. Have an Airtight Handbook

To mitigate sexual harassment in the workplace, it is imperative that you have a clear sexual misconduct policy. That policy should be stated in your employee handbook, and every employee should have a copy of it. Every employee should be asked to read it upon being hired and asked some comprehension questions to make sure they understand it.

Here are some things that you should include in your sexual misconduct policy.

  • A clear definition of what sexual misconduct is
  • How employees should report sexual misconduct
  • Describe how investigations will take place, including a timeline
  • Describe the actions that will be taken for employees that violate the sexual misconduct policy

Your definition of sexual misconduct should be specific and include mention of the Title VII Civil Rights Act. This is the main law that protects employees from sexual harassment. Many definitions lose their gravity when they become too vague or include too much legalese.

Remember that there are many types of sexual misconduct. It can be explicit (groping, name-calling) or it can be more subtle. Subtle forms of sexual misconduct include playing explicit songs or watching explicit content on a work computer.

These are things that some employees may not recognize as sexual harassment. Therefore, naming these things in your handbook educates your staff. This can mitigate future occurrences of these types of incidents.

Always include in your handbook a clear pathway for employees to report sexual misconduct. They should never feel confused or like they have no one to report to.

Including a timeline for investigations helps employees know what to expect. Listing the penalties for sexual misconduct also shows your staff that you have a no-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment. When they learn that on day one, it will influence their behavior moving forward.

2. Take Action Appropriately and Quickly

It is your responsibility as the employer to investigate every single incident of sexual harassment that you hear about. It does not matter if it is blatant harassment or subtle. Every single complaint must be thoroughly investigated by an objective party.

Of course, every business hopes that these complaints never arise. But don’t be so optimistic that you venture into the territory of naivete. Just because you don’t hear complaints doesn’t mean that harassment is not occurring.

To ensure that people feel comfortable reporting harassment, you need to take action appropriately and quickly. What does this mean?

Taking action quickly means immediately launching an investigation. Do not allow the investigation to drag on or linger. Once the investigation has been concluded, following up with the person who filed the complaint may be necessary.

Remember, the most important thing is that everyone feels safe at work.

It is not professional or moral to discuss details of an investigation with anyone other than the people involved. Slipping up on this front can result in further harassment for the person who filed the initial complaint.

3. Develop Strong Leaders

As the employer, you probably have a trusted leadership team. Your managers, shift supervisors, or regional employees set an example for the rest of your staff.

As such, they should be well trained in every aspect of the job. This includes knowing how to spot and handle sexual harassment. The right leader will also be able to influence a positive work culture that will mitigate sexual harassment in the first place.

A strong team starts with strong leadership. Hire people for leadership positions that show a strong commitment to mitigating harassment in all its forms. Ask management candidates questions about harassment scenarios in their interviews.

And once they have been hired, offer them additional harassment trainings. By choosing good leaders, you set the tone for your entire team.

4. Host Recurring Trainings

While having an airtight handbook is a good first step, many employees don’t refer back to it past their hiring date. That means that you need to host recurring sexual harassment trainings to keep the information relevant.

These trainings should be given to your whole staff, especially your leadership team. They should teach employees how to recognize sexual misconduct in the workplace, and how to handle it when they see it.

The trainings should go over company policies once more. They should address what you should do if you are the victim of sexual harassment. They should also show you how to avoid sexual misconduct yourself.

But they should also include something called bystander intervention training.

Bystander intervention refers to the third person in a harassment scenario. Someone who sees what is happening but is not affected by it. Training bystanders to take action ensures that your team mitigates sexual misconduct as much as possible.

5. Check in with Your Team

Unfortunately, many instances of harassment are not reported until they have escalated. This is for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is the person who was harassed did not know who to talk to or who to trust.

If an employee feels that way, you are the one responsible. It is a difficult truth, but it is something you must come to terms with as an employer. Here is how you can fix it.

Have frequent one-on-one meetings with different members of your team. If your team is quite large, make sure your leadership team is prepared to have one-on-one meetings with a select few. These meetings should be regular and in a relaxed setting.

These meetings can be to talk about work challenges, projects that the employee is working on, or upcoming items on their calendar. But ultimately, it sends a clear message to your team: you care. The hope is that they will feel comfortable coming to you when a harassment issue first arises.

This way, you can stop the issue in its tracks. In addition to preventing a more escalated issue, you have done something else that is crucial to a strong workplace environment. You have built trust amongst your team.

6. Institute a Solutions-Based Approach

Understandably, sexual harassment conversations often have a punitive tone. As a result, sometimes employees feel as though they have done something wrong before an incident ever occurs. Either that or they feel that their bosses don’t trust them to behave in the work environment.

This feeling makes employees less likely to take an active role in creating the desired work environment.

Therefore, one of the best ways to mitigate sexual harassment in the workplace is to use a solutions-based approach when talking to your team. Ask them to define the type of culture they want in the workplace, and how they think they could achieve it. By giving them the opportunity to come up with their own action steps, you increase the level of participation from your team.

Get your team to actively participate in creating a healthy work environment. This will help mitigate all kinds of harassment in the workplace.

7. Revise Your Sexual Harassment Policy as Needed

If there is one thing in your handbook you do not want to become out of date, it is your sexual harassment policy. When something changes, or if a new issue comes up, be sure to revise your policy.

For example, if your company hires a new Human Resources consulting agency, update that information in the handbook. You never want someone experiencing harassment to not know who to turn to with their complaint.

By keeping your sexual harassment policy updated in your handbook, you ensure the safety of your employees and mitigate sexual harassment.

Mitigate Sexual Misconduct with These Seven Steps

Talking about sexual misconduct in the workplace can seem scary or intimidating. But it can make your work environment a better place to be. Teaching your employees how to stop sexual harassment is the best way to mitigate sexual misconduct at work.

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