HR Compliance

4 Ways to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

By

Rachel Hittle

| Dec 15, 2017

Online searches of the term “sexual harassment” in recent months are not only up, but way up: ever-changing, but approximately more than 500%, per a Google Trends report. For HR and business leaders, this startling increase indicates your people seek answers.

The recent surge in internet searches not only highlights the current tidal wave of harassment scandals, but also calls into question the effectiveness of today’s anti-harassment training. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has long cited training as a critical component to prevention, yet the number of EEOC charges over the years remains largely unchanged.

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It’s easy to surmise this number should be decreasing if training is effective, but it’s not that simple. Anti-harassment training is just one step to creating a safe workplace culture.

Why you need more than training

In a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, cast member Cecily Strong played a frantic HR representative quizzing an employee about anti-harassment dos and don’ts. “There’s no wrong answer,” she said, “just super-wrong answers.”

It’s a comical, but realistic take on how some companies use anti-harassment training as a cure-all. While training is one step in the right direction toward prevention, it’s time companies offer a full solution.

The EEOC’s own task force emphasizes training as an essential component: “However, to be effective in stopping harassment, such training cannot stand alone but rather must be part of a holistic effort undertaken by the employer.”

Steps toward prevention

Here are four steps to creating a culture sincere about preventing harassment, based on EEOC practices:

One: Set the bar. Make it known your business has a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate workplace behavior. Your expectations must apply to all levels of the organization, without exception.

Two: Create a written policy. Don’t stop at defining unacceptable behavior; include the proper way to report it. Ensure whoever handles these complaints can remain neutral and has the appropriate knowledge and authority to investigate and resolve complaints. Allocate appropriate resources to address and resolve any anti-harassment claims, and stick to your policies.

Three: Train all levels of your organization, from senior leaders to entry-level employees, on what constitutes discrimination and harassment, and your process for reporting. Ensure you have different trainings for employees and supervisors. Training should be relevant and engaging to your workforce. Say goodbye to plugging in the DVD player; invest in interactive training that includes knowledge checks and nuanced scenarios, as opposed to an outdated video highlighting only overt behavior.

Four: Communicate your expectations early in the employee onboarding process and throughout their employment. Use HR technology that allows for insight into the last time an employee reviewed your training or policies. Take advantage of auto-enrollment rules to ensure policies and trainings are reviewed by everyone annually.

Keep in mind, there is no surefire way to eliminate harassment or discrimination. For example, as a society, we’ve long enacted laws against criminal behavior, but we’re not naive enough to believe simply having those laws will eliminate crime altogether; it’s a way to communicate and clearly enforce expectations.

The goal of your policies, training and processes should be similar: Emphasize what’s not acceptable behavior, encourage reporting and build confidence with your workforce that you will investigate every complaint, so you may bring them all to an appropriate resolution.

For more information, check out Sexual Harassment: Making the Workplace Safe for Everyone, our post about how organizations can learn from the Harvey Weinstein effect.

About the Author

Rachel Hittle

Rachel Hittle oversees a team of content creators in Paycom’s learning and development department. Together, they design e-learning courses relevant to today’s employees on topics ranging from compliance to leadership. A highlight of her career was designing and implementing the company’s first client certification program. Prior to joining Paycom, the University of Kansas journalism graduate worked as a television news reporter.

See more posts by Rachel Hittle