By Stacey Neumann, Partner, Chair of Employment Law Practice Group
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, workplace culture has come under scrutiny in recent years. For employers, creating an appropriate workplace environment should be a top priority in ensuring employee safety.
What does harassment look like?
With the #MeToo movement bringing more cases to public attention, there’s raised awareness of the types of behaviors that fall into the category of sexual harassment. As people learn more about what sexual harassment means and entails, many are beginning to realize they too have been sexually harassed.
Harassment can range from inappropriate touching or propositioning to crude jokes that make a colleague uncomfortable. There is no place for these behaviors in the workplace, and that needs to be conveyed clearly to employees of all levels. Further explanation of what constitutes sexual harassment can be found here.
Have a sexual harassment policy in place
Make sure your policy states clearly that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, explains how to report sexual harassment without fear of reprisal, and makes it known that all claims will be investigated. One of our Employment Law attorneys can help you review your current policy, or put a new one in place.
Create a culture of coming forward
One of the reasons sexual harassment isn’t reported is that victims fear they won’t be believed. Companies need to establish a culture in which employees feel that they are able to report an incident as soon as it happens and feel comfortable coming forward. This puts the harasser on notice and allows employers to take appropriate steps to halt the harassment. Future harassment incidents after a harasser is on notice make next steps clearer.
Empower employees from the top down
While developing this culture, you should feel confident in the professionalism of your top level employees. Empower middle level managers to navigate any situations that arise, and make sure employees of all levels are respectful of the policies in place.
Navigating relationships between coworkers
It’s commonplace for coworkers to develop friendships, which can sometimes lead to more intimate relationships. As an employer, you should have a clear guidelines in place regarding workplace relationships. An intimate relationship within a direct supervisory line is always a bad idea, but equal employees may have the opportunity to pursue relationships, provided both parties feel comfortable enough to decline social invitations without fear of repercussions in the workplace. This comes back to fostering that open and honest culture that makes for the most successful business in all realms.