5 HR Changes to Combat Sexual Harassment

MeToo movement hashtag in blue

The #metoo movement continues to gain steam all over the United States. Famous and powerful people alike who have committed alleged sex crimes, no matter how severe, are being named by their victims. In many cases, the accused leave their positions of power or fame behind as a consequence. Some face criminal charges.

  • HR professionals address sexual harassment in the workplace
  • How HR deals with sexual harassment
  • Sexual Harassment defined
  • A call to action for victims

Before the problems surrounding the issue of sexual harassment and the like gets better, real changes have to be made. HR professionals will be on the front line as the changes are proposed and adopted… whatever they may be.

We recently posed this question to members of the HR Exchange Network community: Overall, what can HR professionals do to help impacted employees and protect unaffected workers? How can companies empower HR professionals to take on the issue?

We received several responses. From those we took the top five changes we think can help move the issue forward, and not only create a workplace where that behavior is not tolerated, but foster healing by the victims.

Jagadeesh C. Reddy

Director – Human Resources, M+W Group

“Sexual harassment in work place is menace to be dealt firmly. There will be two-pronged approach for this. One way is the strong deterrence and the other way is constant and consistent training. Deterrent mechanisms will instill fear in the minds of perpetrators while training and awareness will bring positive change at the work place. In India there is Law (POSH Act) that deals with prevention and diagnosis of this malady. To reinforce this strongly this awareness training may also be made a part of on-boarding program so that new hires are told and expected a desirable behavior as per the code of conduct.”

Robin (Robert) Farrell

HR Manager, LiDestri Food and Drink

“There has to be good communications, strong investigations and management has to be strong in intent, action and follow-up.”

Kimberly Frisbee

Human Resources Specialist, Arkansas Children’s Hospital

“I believe the perpetrators need training to avoid certain actions in and out of the workplace and survivors need training on responding to actions. If the response calls for saying no to end situation great; but if it calls for a stronger response be willing to respond appropriately.”

Khurshida Khatamova

HR Assistant, Sobirovs, LLP

“We need to educate top management and employees and explain to the top management that HR departments need more power in dealing with SH at the workplace. As a result, if employees see that HR departments are powerful enough to deal with SH, they will start seeking help in HR. Moreover, top management should understand that if somebody sues, it would cost a lot of money for the company, not mentioning the damage to a person's and an organization's reputation."

Kingzleen Jabakumar

Human Resources Manager, Uniware

“Not many have really understood the seriousness of Sexual Harassment (SH) at workplace. Or I should say, they do not know “what is sexual harassment?” I have been doing SH prevention training at different level for many years and I consider the success of my training is when employee start thinking about “then what must I do at workplace?” “What is appropriate / inappropriate”. I count that as successful. Actually that was the common reaction after making them understand “what is SH.” It’s high time where employees need to be trained on “what is SH.” Rightly said that it definitely demands a top down approach. Consider doing this training to top management separately and the rest separately. While handling top management, you can also educate them on addressing SH at workplace, cos they are the one who are most likely to receive complaints.”

Jabakumar’s statement bring up a very valid question: what is sexual harassment? Many don’t know the answer. That’s in part due to the ever-changing atmosphere in the workplace, which is based on culture, workforce make-up, regulation, and a whole host of different variables.

Whistle with male symbols surrounding it black and red

For a more specific definition, I turned to the American Association of University Woman. It’s one of the leading voices in promoting equity and education for women and girls. The AAUW defines sexual harassment as such:

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Very generally, sexual harassment describes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion, and it applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. Even with Title VII’s protections, many people across the country still face sexual harassment in their workplaces.

The AAUW also offers a series of guides to help victims, colleagues, and companies identify and address the issues related to sexual harassment and how to improve the workplace environment.

One of the most important points the AAUW articulates is to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. They say every detail is important when calling out and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. No detail is too small or trivial.

According to AAUW, here are the important details to document:

  • Your experience with the harasser — time, location, details, and witnesses
  • Your experience reporting the harassment — time, location, details, and witnesses
  • Your productivity — safeguarding and documenting your productivity at work can be essential during and after reporting