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Sexual harassment in the workplace: a prevention checklist

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that can be detrimental to your employees—both emotionally and professionally—as well as a serious legal issue for your business. Unfortunately, it occurs more often than you might believe, even if it’s not reported. 

A recent study found that 35% of US workers have experienced workplace sexual harassment, and 40% of that group said they never filed a complaint. 

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature are considered sexual harassment under federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) if they:

  • affect a worker’s employment
  • impact their work performance
  • create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. 

The best way to avoid a hostile or offensive work environment for all your team members is to implement an effective sexual harassment training program. Depending on where you live, you could even be mandatory. Many states have sexual harassment laws that require employees to receive training. 

If you don’t have an HR department to lead the charge on ensuring your business is following any training requirements, it can be difficult to know where to start. However, as long as you have the right checklist, providing sexual harassment prevention training can be done in five easy steps. 

1. Know your training laws 

Many states require employers to provide employee training courses to prevent harassment of a sexual nature. California business owners, for example, must provide two hours of interactive training to managers and supervisors every two years. 

Other states with mandatory training laws as of May 2021 include:

The #MeToo movement has ushered the issue of sexual harassment into the national spotlight over the last few years. Many states are responding by either increasing their prevention training requirements or implementing entirely new laws. Be sure to keep an eye out for any new legislation in your state. 

Tip: It’s always a good idea to enlist a little assistance in staying updated on changing employment laws. Homebase HR Pro will not only help you better understand existing legislation around sexual harassment training but will also send you labor law alerts should a new law be implemented in your area. 

2.  Create a policy 

Create a sexual harassment policy and put it in your employee handbook. Be sure to include a procedure for reporting an incident and how it will be investigated. Your policy should also include a clear statement that your business has a zero-tolerance policy on all forms of sex discrimination, including harassment. 

Define sexual harassment with easy-to-understand examples. You can use the definition and explanation laid out on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website. An example can look something like this:

“Sarah has repeatedly denied her manager Joe’s requests for a date after work. When it came time for Joe to make an employment decision and promote someone on the team to a higher position, he chose someone else instead of Sarah for the sole reason that she would not go out with him.” 

Your policy should also include what the consequences are for sexual harassment incidents, as well as a statement that retaliating against an employee who makes a claim is forbidden. 

Once your policy is written, make sure all employees read it. An easy way to do so is to send it to them as part of the onboarding process and have them sign the handbook stating that they understand all the included policies. 

3. Establish a robust reporting process 

If you don’t have an HR team, designate a person for your employees to report sexual harassment incidents to—someone who is most likely to be unbiased and is trusted by your team. You should also designate an alternate person in case an employee feels uncomfortable filing a complaint with the first one. 

As soon as an incident occurs in the workplace, the affected employee should know how to file a complaint as soon as possible. Action needs to be taken immediately after a report is made to the appropriate person, and the investigation needs to be conducted thoroughly and professionally. 

Get as many details as possible about the accusation, including dates and location of when it occurred. If the allegations include any form of sexual assault, contact the police. 

Again, many sexual harassment incidents go unreported because employees feel filing a complaint will negatively impact their job. The most important aspect of your reporting process is ensuring your team that no retaliation will be tolerated. Making them feel comfortable with the established process will increase the likelihood that they will use it. 

4. Design your training program

Your team members may have read the sexual harassment policy in your handbook, but actually training them on what it means is the next step. Use your written policy as a framework for the content of your training program. 

Your content should include timely, relevant, and realistic scenarios that hold your team’s attention. Use examples that reflect your industry and workplace. If the course includes a scenario that couldn’t actually happen at your establishment, it probably won’t resonate with your team. 

Making the program interactive with bits of microlearning sprinkled in results in a more engaging experience. It’s a good idea to use an online program that includes “bite-sized” videos that portray realistic, nuanced situations. They’re more likely to establish a level of emotion that will positively influence your team’s behavior. 

Plus, if it’s online they can complete it on their mobile device from wherever they are. There are many online e-learning platforms you can utilize that allow you to provide realistic scenarios followed by quizzes tailored to your business’s needs: 

If you live in a state that mandates training, review the requirements and ensure your plan complies with the rules. 

5. Conduct periodic anonymous surveys

Keeping a consistent pulse on how comfortable your team feels in the work environment is important because it gives you a chance to reassess your policy if needed. 

The best way to do so is to have your team take an anonymous survey. You’ll get a more honest answer to how they are feeling about your workplace culture and whether they believe you handle sexual harassmentt appropriately. Depending on the responses you receive, you may need to edit your policy. You’ll probably want to check in now and then when there are significant changes in your team. 

You can use one of these free online tools to build your survey: 

Need help setting up your 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. 


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