Know Your Rights at Work

Sexual Harassment

Employer’s Guide: Move Beyond Compliance

As an employer you must know that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex.  Prohibited behaviors can be of a sexual nature, as well as offensive conduct related to sex.

This law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. Title VII applies to employers with more than 15 employees and applies to federal, state, and local governments, as well as employment agencies and labor organizations. It provides protection from discrimination in the hiring, firing, and promoting process, in setting pay, and in other terms and conditions of employment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace report provides invaluable information for employers and employees alike in identifying and addressing unlawful harassment at work.

Employers must comply with federal law and any relevant state law, but doing so also helps their bottom lines. Employees’ productivity and morale will increase if you move beyond mere compliance and create a culture that is safe for all employees to thrive. Move beyond being reactive, and start being proactive in addressing your own workplace culture. Focusing on prevention, before things rise to illegal discrimination, is key.

What Corporate Culture Have YOU Created?

Are your employees empowered to report discriminatory abuses of power like sexual harassment?

If not, here are five ways to improve the culture at work:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends that you give clear assurances:

  • That employees who make complaints or who support complaints will be protected against retaliation, and
  • That the employer will be decisive when harassment occurs and issue proportionate corrective action when behaviors that don’t contribute to an inclusive culture at work are discovered.
  1. Create a well-defined sexual harassment policy that includes examples of prohibited behavior. Incorporate the policy into the employee handbook and regularly train and engage employees with the content using different methods.
  2. Create a complaint procedure that identifies HR professionals designated to document and investigate complaints. Explain the investigation process and offer examples of proportionate corrective actions that may result at the conclusion of an investigation.
  3. Conduct regular, anonymous climate surveys to ascertain the existing climate of inclusion and identify potential areas for growth.
  4. Empower bystanders: Provide trainings that give employees the skills necessary to intervene when appropriate and report harassing behavior. Create a culture where all employees are invested in maintaining a workplace climate that is free from discrimination.
  5. Model good behavior and require that leadership at all levels exemplifies a culture that is inclusive and values employees. Although leadership and accountability starts with YOU, midlevel managers and direct supervisors are key elements in establishing and enforcing acceptable behavior at work.