What to know and do about sexual harassment in the workplace

Of all the types of interpersonal problems that can occur in business, sexual harassment has the greatest potential to disrupt a corporate culture and expose a company to legal risks. As a result, it is important that every business is aware of what it is, and what to do if an incident of this sort occurs within their work environment.

 

Below, we will define what sexual harassment is, how it is perpetuated, and what can be done to prevent and respond to it.

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What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment takes many forms within the workplace. As such, it is important to know what behaviors to watch for so employees can recognize them and respond in an appropriate manner. It can include everything from offering advantages to employees in return for sexual favors, to gender-specific derogatory name-calling.

Other acts that constitute sexual harassment on the job: uninvited physical contact, persistent date seeking directed towards an individual, commenting on one’s physique in a sexual context, and sending sexually explicit images to fellow co-workers, among others.

Who is affected by it, and how is it perpetuated?

In most cases, the aggrieved party is female, though it should be noted that on occasion, males can be targeted as well. This type of workplace issue tends to be a problem in environments that are male-dominated, such as the construction industry, police and fire departments, and in certain engineering professions.

Many cases occur when an individual in a position of authority uses their power to coerce employees below them to submit to their sexual advances, but sexual harassment is also perpetuated by employees of equal status in an attempt to gain an advantage over others (e.g. spreading rumors about the details of a co-worker’s sex life in order to damage their reputation).

What to do about sexual harassment in the workplace

Preventing the development of a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace starts with the formulation of a clear and concise policy against it. This document will advise all employees of their rights and responsibilities with regards to sexual misconduct on the job, and it should be posted in a high visibility place, such as on a break room bulletin board.

It should outline procedures that are to be followed in the event of a violation of this policy, and the consequences for the offending party, should they be found guilty. To ensure that all employees are aware of the statutes in a workplace’s anti-sexual harassment policy, make certain that it is supplied to them in an orientation manual, and that it is explained in training sessions for new hires.

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