What Managers can do to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
Due to the recent revelations in Hollywood and within our own government, it seems that the world is flabbergasted at what has been present within the workplace for years. Consequently it has now been publicly reported that there have been numerous incidents of sexual harassment within the workplace on both women and men.Therefore what can we do as leaders to manage workplace sexual harassment?
What is classed as sexual harassment?>
First of all, to know what we can do as leaders and managers, we must understand what is classed as sexual harassment. Therefore according to the Human Rights Commission, sexual harassment is “unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written”
This can be difficult to understand as what may feel acceptable to one person may offend and humiliate another. As a result, we have provided you a list of examples to help you understand.
Examples of sexual harassment
- Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography, with co-workers.
- Sending suggestive letters, notes, or e-mails.
- Displaying inappropriate sexual images or posters in the workplace.
- Telling lewd jokes, or sharing sexual anecdotes.
- Making inappropriate sexual gestures.
- Staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling.
- Making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts.
- Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person.
- Asking sexual questions, such as questions about someone’s sexual history or their sexual orientation.
- Making offensive comments about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
These examples are not exhaustive but give a better idea for leaders and managers of what to look out for within and outside the workplace.
Is it a Manager’s responsibility if it occurs outside of work?
An employer can be held liable (directly and vicariously) for the behaviour of staff when sexual harassment occurs:
- at work.
- at work-related events – be mindful of imminent Christmas Parties.
- between people sharing the same workplace – when organisations share the same facilities e.g canteen.
- between colleagues outside of work – even if the sexual harassment does not happen in work time.
Do Managers have to act if staff behaviour doesn’t seem to cause offence to the victim?
All incidents of sexual harassment require managers to respond quickly and appropriately.
Even if someone does not object to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace at the time, it does not mean that they are consenting to the behaviour. We must understand that the victim may not just be the target of the offense. Consequently anyone who is affected by the inappropriate behaviour, who may have witnessed it and feels humiliated and offended would be a victim.
What can Managers and Leaders do to prevent sexual harassment within the workplace?
There are a number of steps that you can take to reduce the risk of this occurring in your workplace. Although you may not be able to take all of the steps listed below, you should take as many of them as you can:
Adopt a clear sexual harassment policy.
In your employee handbook, you should have a policy devoted to sexual harassment. That policy should:
Define sexual harassment
- State in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate sexual harassment
- State that you will discipline or dismiss any offenders
- Set out a clear procedure for making sexual harassment complaints
- State that you will investigate fully any complaint that you receive, and
- State that you will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who complains about sexual harassment.
Conduct regular training sessions for employees. These sessions should teach employees what sexual harassment is and explain that employees have a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment. Training should also be provided that explains the complaints procedure, and how employees can use it.
Train supervisors and managers.
Conduct regular training sessions for supervisors and managers that are separate from the employee sessions. The sessions should educate the managers and supervisors about sexual harassment and explain how to deal with complaints.
Be visible in your workplace.
Get out among your employees periodically. Talk to them about the work environment. Look around the workplace itself and ensure that there aren’t any offensive posters or notes. Ensure you communicate regularly with your supervisors and managers, and make it clear to all staff that any form of harassment will not be tolerated.
Take all complaints seriously.
If someone complains about sexual harassment, act immediately to investigate the complaint. If the complaint turns out to be valid, your response should be swift and effective.
Finally, we all have a responsibility to ensure that our workplaces are safe and healthy environments. As leaders and managers within our organisation we must lead by example and ensure our own behaviour signposts clear expectations.
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