Sexual harassment is not a recent phenomenon. However, recent allegations against high-profile figures in entertainment, media, sports, business and politics show how important it is to address inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Sexual harassment is often downplayed or worse—excused, sanctioned and obscured. It is important to educate your workforce and to establish a culture where any inappropriate behavior is not an option. Training on sexual harassment prevention is a great start.
What is Harassment?
Harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.
The following are two of the most common types of harassment:
1. Quid Pro Quo
In the context of sexual harassment, this phrase (Latin for “this for that”) means requiring sexual favors for job security, advancement or pay increase or other job-related requirements. In this case, the harasser is in a position of power over the victim.
2. Hostile Work Environment/Abusive Conduct
Creating a hostile work environment can be perpetrated by any employee, vendor, contractor or customer—not necessarily someone in a position of power. This may include actions such as making sexual comments, telling offensive jokes, using racial slurs, cat-calling, touching, leering at or threatening another, using intimidation, ridiculing or insulting.
Who is Affected by Harassment?
Women in all walks of life are reporting the occurrence of sexual harassment. Why does it seem like women are reporting in such large numbers now? One reason is that since it is getting a lot of media attention there is safety in numbers. The more women report, the easier it is to have your voice heard by those in charge.
The #MeToo movement has primarily focused on professional women in politics, the media and the entertainment industry. However, this movement and sexual harassment in general, happens at all socio-economic levels, such as blue collar workers on the Ford shop floor, food-service workers at McCormick & Schmicks and other low-paying hourly positions where financial insecurity makes reporting harassment a difficult decision.
Although the media attention has primarily focused on female victims, male victims are also increasingly reporting. According to Psychology Today, employers and their co-workers often expect men to conform to traditional gender roles in the home. Those who take on non-traditional gender roles (such as child care providers) or who act in ways that may be perceived as “unmasculine” may suffer harassment and career setbacks as a result.
What Can Employers Do To Be Both Proactive and In Compliance with the Law?
The consequences of not preventing and addressing sexual harassment can be detrimental to a company’s workplace environment and reputation. It is important for employers to take the following steps to prevent sexual harassment incidents and stay in compliance with the AB 1825 and AB 2053 (California’s harassment training laws):
1. Take an honest look to see if your corporate culture promotes or enables this behavior. Do you foster a respect for all employees and a culture of openness, or does your culture foster secrecy and retaliation?
2. Exercise reasonable care to prevent or correct inappropriate conduct when you become aware of it. This includes having and posting your sexual harassment policy in a visible location and communicating it in group and one-on-one to your employees.
3. Provide several confidential options for reporting.
4. Be sure that you have and communicate a policy to prevent retaliation for reporting.
5. Take allegations of sexual harassment seriously, and do an immediate, unbiased investigation.
6. Ensure that you are offering the most up to date, legally-compliant training and vendors to deliver the training to your supervisors and managers and delivering periodic training to your employees.
7. Be sure to retrain, discipline or fire offenders in a timely fashion.
8. Ensure that any vendors or contractors that your company employs have a communicated sexual harassment policies and reporting and investigation procedures. Additionally, make sure that their managers are also receiving timely, up-to-date training and that they are training their employees on correct workplace behavior.
Western Growers offers a two-hour AB-1825 and AB-2053 compliant workshop, in both English and Spanish. The training explores the consequences of harassment on the individual and the organization, and provides guidance on how to maintain a healthy work environment.
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