Burbank, CA – Sexual harassment has long been a serious issue in workplaces across the nation. The recent #MeToo movement has thrust the issue into the spotlight, and employers need to make sure they are taking the necessary precautions to prevent harassment in their own workplaces.
HR Consultant, Malena Otero, shares some valuable information on how to prevent sexual harassment at the work site. Pointing to the prevalence of sexual harassment at work, Malena says it seems that every morning we wake up to a new sexual harassment scandal. “It was 1991 and I recall Anita Hill speaking about her experiences with Clarence Thomas, how he harassed her. Since then awareness has increased, however its apparent that in some companies it went dormant,” she continues, “26 years later and we find ourselves with a consistent pattern of sexual harassment cases, in all industries. Have we not learned from other’s mistakes? In a poll conducted by ABC News Poll they found that more than half of U.S. women have experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from men, 3 in 10 have put up with unwanted advances from male co-workers and a quarter have endured them from men who had influence over their work situation.”
Sexual harassment is prohibited by Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, applicable to employers 15+ employees. But every organization, regardless of size, should strive to protect their employees as they are their most valuable asset. It is also very costly if an organization doesn’t prevent harassment cases or address any complaints immediately. According to Malena, assuming that the claim is settled out of court, the average harassment claim will typically run an organization anywhere from $80,000–$100,000.
Malena says there are 5 must do’s which should be followed to prevent sexual harassment.
1. Develop a Culture of Trust
An organization must have systems in place where employees are introduced to their values and policies. Executives and HR team members should work at getting to know employees and develop a rapport with them. When employees understand the company’s values and policies they are most likely to follow them. In addition when they trust their managers, executives and/or HR they will feel secure addressing any uncomfortable situations. An organization’s values should include respect for all stakeholders. It should be modeled by top executives, managers and HR.
2. Have a Policy
Develop and implement a clear policy that clarifies what acceptable behavior is. Your polices should cover sexual harassment, hostile work environment, abusive conduct and anti-discrimination against gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Include information on how to file a complaint, it should be easy and confidential.
3. Train all employees
California law requires all employees with 50 or more employees to provide harassment prevention training to all supervisors within the first 6 months of employment and every two years thereafter. It is important they understand what the organization values and how he/she fits in. A review of policies at hire and an introduction to what is acceptable behavior and what to do if the person experiences a situation that is inconsistent with its policies. Employees should know who they can go to if they want to file a complaint. Employers must hold managers accountable for preventing and responding to all complaints in a timely and consistent manner. While the law does not require all employees be trained it is a great practice to provide everyone with information on what constitutes harassment and how to address a situation should they experience it. Training can be done online however I have found it is more effective when done in a live setting.
4. Take every complaint seriously
Frequently a supervisor and at times the HR rep make the determination that the victim is blowing the situation out of proportion or lying so they don’t act on it. Every complaint must be taken seriously regardless of your personal feelings. Once a complaint is received it should be followed up in a confidential manner. An HR professional or attorney should handle the complaint.
5. Act promptly
When an employee files a complaint it is important to hear the employee, take notes and follow your process. It is crucial to involve human resources and/or legal counsel to ensure an impartial investigation is conducted.
6. Follow your process
What happens when you have a top producing employee who is accused of sexual harassment? There are times when Executives are hesitant to allow HR to follow the process of conducting an impartial investigation. It is important that the organization is consistent and prepared to lose its top employee. Not following your process will diminish trust and increase your liability.
These steps are easy to follow however intentional efforts must be made in order to ensure a harassment free culture is present and understood by every employee.
Malena Orozco-Otero, founder of Strategic HR Alliance, leverages her 18 years of experience in the area of Human Resources. Her goal is to help clients establish a working environment where employees feel valued and are developed to their full potential, resulting in efficient and effective teams which increase productivity in an organization. Her specialties include leadership coaching, training and workshops, recruitment, and compliance.
Malena’s broad industry knowledge stems from a career spent working at PUC Schools (Partnerships to Uplift Communities), a Charter School Management Organization, The Walt Disney Company, Adecco, and others. Her background in both the public and private sectors translates into a unique perspective on how human resources can drive every organization’s success.
Malena brings a unique understanding and knowledge of federal, state, California Education Code, and charter authorizer’s compliance regulations. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with others so they may grow and increase their effectiveness in all they do.