9 Steps to Successfully Address Sexual Harassment

Jack Bucalo

Just about every company today, faces the problem of sexual harassment in their work place. To effectively combat Sexual Harassment, outlined below is a proven method for addressing the problem that has proved successful in a large, international company.

First, with the latest advice from legal counsel, update your company policy to clearly state that any proven sexual harassment offense will be subject to discipline, up to and including discharge. The policy should include a list of the more serious offenses, including physical touching, bantering, third party harassment, gesturing, hostile work environment, retaliation, verbal abuse and making false accusations, while stating that all incidents will be promptly and thoroughly investigated by HR, Legal and/or outside personnel as appropriate. All associated procedures, especially the investigation procedure, should be updated as well.

Second, every year, a copy of the policy (or a summary of its major provisions) should be sent to ALL employees as a reminder of management's commitment to it. Encourage all employees who feel they have been harassed to unequivocally tell their alleged harasser that such actions or words are UNWELCOMED by emphatically saying NO, before they make a formal complaint of the alleged harassment.

Third, catalog and present to management the company expense that can be directly tied to the investigations, settlements and/or litigation of such harassment matters over the last two years, broken down by individual groups, divisions, business units or other appropriate organizations.

Fourth, HR and the company's top management must recognize that, with the rise in the use of social media by employees, a company's negative reputation for not dealing effectively and/or fairly with any sexual harassment claim can seriously degrade a company's culture in just a very short period of time.

Fifth, HR and Legal can develop and present a 2 hour Sexual Harassment Workshop that can be given to management personnel in all organizations, starting with those that have had the worst track record based on the number or per cent of complaints and company expense. The subject matter should cover the various offensive behaviors based on legal precedent while utilizing discreet demonstrations, if needed, to clearly illustrate any major point. Conclude the workshop with a Q & A session, followed by short presentation by the Chief Legal Counsel and/or CHRO to clearly convey the CEO's strong support of the policy.

Sixth, institute a company culture in which top and middle management clearly demonstrate, by their ACTIONS and words, that: a) they always LISTEN EMPHATICALLY AND TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION on these matters, b) they have an open-door policy to meet and discuss such matters with any employee at any reasonable time, and c) female employees are respected equally as their male counterparts in every aspect of the business.

Seventh, change the Financial and HR policies to state that expenses related to such policy violations will be borne by the organization committing the offense, and not the Corporate or Division Legal budget.

Eighth, direct the General Manager or Division Head of any organization that has had a large amount of such expense that their bonuses and merit increases will be reduced by some meaningful amount as a deterrent for any future inappropriate actions.

Lastly, for any organization with a bad track record, have the General Manager or Division Head make a trip to the corporate headquarters for a meeting with the CEO to "discuss" the matter.

When these and other similar steps are taken, sexual harassment incidents will be greatly reduced and female employees will be much happier knowing that their top management has taken some meaningful preventative actions to preclude this problem from recurring.