Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace

No employee should have to endure sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in the workplace. Such abhorrent actions can be severe and cause lasting emotional and psychological harm to the victims. This is why employers are tasked with providing a workplace that is free of sexual harassment and discrimination.

According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), an employer must have policies in place to actively prevent any forms of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace. 

Under California law, all workers should be protected from discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. This includes people who aren’t legally considered “employees” of the company such as interns, volunteers, and independent contractors. 

How can an employer prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace?

Prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace can be done in a multitude of ways. The simplest and easiest form of prevention is giving workers basic information about sexual harassment. Employers can give them a copy of DFEH’s Brochure 185 which includes the facts about sexual harassment, formal channels to file a complaint, employer’s obligations, and employer liability.

Giving out brochures is a great way to introduce sexual harassment policies and workers’ rights. This measure, while helpful, may not fully to prevent and discourage harassment and discrimination in the workplace, however. Below are other things employers will need to do to ensure a safe working environment.

Get the policies in writing

Employers should have a policy on sexual harassment, written in language that all workers can understand. Also, make sure everyone is aware of and has a copy of such policies.

When writing anti-harassment policies, you must:

  • Explain the meaning of harassment
  • Provide examples of harassment they must look out for
  • State clearly that harassment will not be tolerated
  • State disciplinary actions or consequences to perpetrators of sexual harassment and discrimination
  • Clarify that there will be no retaliation against those who file complaints
  • Explain employees’ and employers’ responsibilities in reporting sexual harassment and discrimination
  • Explain how workers can make a complaint when they experience harassment and/or discrimination

A written policy alone won’t completely solve the problem of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. But while you may still get complaints, an effective policy will help set expectations and let workers know that regulations to protect them are in place.

Explain ways to report harassment and discrimination

In addition to having the complaint procedure put in writing, employers should also brief workers on how to report harassment or discrimination. You need to make sure they understand exactly how they can go about reporting any incidents. 

When explaining the process to workers, it’s best to keep it simple. To give you a better idea, here are some of the most common questions people have when filing a complaint:

  • Who do I report the incident to?
  • Should I email or write a letter?
  • What will happen after I file a complaint/report?
  • Who will know about my complaint/report?
  • Can I keep my identity anonymous?

Create guidelines to answer all the questions above and other inquiries about your company’s complaint procedure. This will help workers understand the policies better, as well as how to navigate the internal process.

What should you know about sexual harassment prevention training?

In California, employers with five or more employers are required to provide sexual harassment prevention training. Employees must receive their training within six months after they assume their position.

Those in supervisory positions are required to attend at least two hours of training. Employees in a non supervisory position, on the other hand, need at least one hour of training. Employees need to undergo this training at least once every two years.

Method of providing training

Employers can conduct the required sexual harassment training through a classroom setting, e-learning setup, or live web seminar. If trainees have questions, they should be able to contact the trainer and receive an answer within two days.

Topics to discuss during training

Nonsupervisory employees should learn about the basics of sexual harassment and their right to a workplace free of sexual harassment. They should also be educated about the complaint procedure and encouraged to seek redress when they see fit to do so. 

Employees in supervisory roles should be taught about how to handle complaints, how to correct harassing behavior, and should be made aware of their obligation to report sexual harassment.

All employees should know where they can file sexual harassment and discrimination charges, which would be at government agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the DFEH.

Need legal counsel? Consult with top sexual harassment lawyers Hogue & Belong


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