HR’s Role in Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is an issue that plagues much of the American workplace. It’s something that companies should be diligent about preventing and know how to handle in the event that a situation arises. This ultimately falls into HR’s lap.


Addressing it Head On

A recent poll from YouGov found that 23 percent of U.S. adults have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s likely something HR will encounter at some point. One of the first steps for handling this issue is to address it in your company’s policies.

A formal definition eliminates any confusion. The Society for Human Resource Management defines sexual harassment as, “Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently persistent or offensive to unreasonably interfere with an employee’s job performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

Make sure to cover disciplinary actions that will ensue for violating the policies. This could include a loss of benefits, termination or even criminal penalties, depending on the nature of the offense. It’s critical that employees have a firm grasp on what constitutes sexual harassment and understand what type of behaviors are unacceptable.


Reporting Complaints

It’s difficult to stamp out occurrences of sexual harassment completely. Therefore, establish procedures for reporting complaints so that you have thorough documentation. This will be essential for finding a resolution and for protecting your company in the event of litigation.

Specific information to gather includes:

  • The name of the complainant and the person accused
  • A full description of the incident including the date, location and the names of any potential witnesses
  • How the incident has adversely affected the complainant and their ability to perform their job
  • Other relevant information integral to understanding the nature of the incident

Keep in mind that this information should be kept confidential at all times and must not be shared with anyone uninvolved with the incident.


Resolving Matters

It’s also up to HR to create a resolution process. In some cases, this can be done through informal means. Sometimes having a one-on-one discussion with the accused party is sufficient. HR would explain the nature of the offense and explain that the behavior won’t be tolerated. They should listen to the accused individual’s summary of the event to gain a better understanding.

For more serious cases involving criminal behavior, you should notify local authorities so they can launch a formal investigation. In this type of scenario, termination is usually necessary.

Sexual harassment is in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and something that should be taken very seriously. Whether you have a formal HR team or simply a dedicated individual, they will need to take swift action and seek a resolution as quickly as possible. This is essential for protecting your employees and preserving your company’s reputation.


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