Sexual harassment has been a hot topic among legislators. Especially with the issue coming into the national spotlight in the last few years through the #MeToo movement. 

As a result, employers are now taking more conscious steps to prevent unwelcome sexual advances and other forms of harassment in the workplace, and in places such as Delaware, Illinois, and Connecticut, workplace training is required by state law

You may or may not be in a state that requires you to provide sexual harassment prevention training. However, it’s a good idea to put the practice into place now—not only to prepare for potential laws, but to keep your employees safe.

It might be difficult to start the process if you don’t have an HR department to lead the way, which can put you in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to potential lawsuits. Most importantly, think about these tips as you get started on making your work environment a sexual harassment-free place. 

Remember: this is not official legal advice. If you have any questions about the employment laws surrounding sexual harassment or how to handle harassment complaints, it’s best to consult an attorney. 

What does the law consider sexual harassment? 

Firstly, the definition of harassment is laid out in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment in workplaces with 15 or more employees based on—among other things—gender or sex. 

According to the Department of Labor, there are two forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo (“this for that”) and hostile work environment harassment. 

Quid pro quo

“Quid pro quo harassment generally results in a tangible employment decision based upon the employee’s acceptance or rejection of unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors,” the DOL says on their website. 

For instance, if you’re a supervisor and you fire or deny promotion to one of your subordinate employees because he or she refuses a request of a sexual nature, you’re participating in quid pro quo harassment. 

Hostile work environment 

According to the DOL’s website, a hostile work environment “can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”

There are many ways your work environment can turn hostile, for instance: 

  • Discussion of sexual activities
  • Off-color jokes 
  • Unnecessary touching
  • Comments on physical attributes
  • Sexually suggestive pictures
  • Demeaning or inappropriate terms or epithets
  • Indecent gestures
  • Crude language
  • Hostile physical conduct 

Therefore, in order for harassing conduct to be considered illegal, it must be both unwelcome, based on the victim’s protected status, subjectively abusive, and objectively severe and pervasive enough to “create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive,” according to the DOL. 

How do I start training employees on sexual harassment prevention? 

The first step to preventing sexual harassment from occurring at your business is to create a written sexual harassment policy. If you have a policy in place that provides a complaint and investigation procedure, you can avoid liability for a complaint as a result if the harasser is not a supervisor and the employee did not inform the employer of the harassment. 

Consequently, make sure your policy includes the following: 

  • Clear articulation that your business prohibits all types of discrimination, including sexual harassment
  • A definition of sexual harassment
  • A zero-tolerance policy for any kind of discrimination
  • Easy-to-understand examples of unacceptable behavior
  • Clear and detailed procedures for violation reporting 
  • A clear explanation of the consequences 
  • A warning that retaliation against an employee who makes a claim is not tolerated 

What should sexual harassment training include? 

It’s not enough for you to simply lay out the rules. Above all, the best practice is to train your employees on sexual harassment prevention once a year. So, your training should help employees understand the policy, and how to recognize, prevent, and report sexual harassment. Secondly, it should also demonstrate that you as an employer will provide a safe workplace. 

An effective training program should include: 

  • Examples of sexual harassment
  • What to do if sexual harassment occurs
  • How to report an incident
  • How the employer will handle a complaint
  • Investigation protocols
  • Multiple ways to report incidents 
  • A zero-tolerance policy 
  • Assurance that you will deal with any complaints immediately
  • Corrective or disciplinary measures that will be taken 

To sum up, sexual harassment prevention training is necessary to your business. Need help setting up a sexual harassment prevention policy and training program? Homebase customers who sign up for HRPro gain affordable access to certified advisors who can help you with sexual harassment prevention—as well as any other HR and compliance topic—whenever you need them. Sign up today to get started! 

Remember: this is not official legal advice. If you have any questions about the employment laws surrounding sexual harassment or how to handle harassment complaints, it’s best to consult an attorney.