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Departments - Cream of the Crop

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November 20, 2018

Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.

© DigitalStorm | iStockphoto

The topic of sexual harassment is back in the news with more publicity than ever before. High-profile individuals like Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves and Al Franken have re-illustrated the importance of understanding sexual harassment across myriad contexts, methods and victims.

Notwithstanding its social stigma and personal impact, it is important to restate the fact that at its legislative core, sexual harassment is an aspect of sexual discrimination, which directly violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Whether it’s quid pro quo or a hostile work environment, all types of sexual harassment are illegal at both the state and federal levels, putting individuals and organizations at considerable risk. In response, many organizations have drafted detailed sexual harassment policies, instituted legally compliant training programs and secured comprehensive employment practices liability insurance policies. These are all ways to pledge to provide a safe, discrimination-free environment for all employees.

Workplace harassment.

“Sexual” harassment now commonly falls under the umbrella of “workplace” harassment. For example, workplace harassment now covers the following types of harassment: discriminatory, physical, psychological, third-party, retaliation, personal, power, on-line, verbal and, of course, sexual.

Organizations have strengthened their affirmative defenses by broadening their workplace harassment training strategies, administrative policies and managerial awareness.

Due to this heightened cultural awareness, many companies now include questions about workplace harassment as part of their selection interview protocols, present extensive reporting procedures in their employee handbooks and craft comprehensive workplace harassment prevention and investigation guidelines.

Workplace violence.

While not yet formalized, the steady trend suggests that bullying may soon become a precursor to violence in the workplace. With that seemingly inevitable causal progression in mind, insightful organizations are choosing to address the root causes of this proactively, instead of awaiting potentially detrimental outcomes.

Best practices.

Organizations successful in preventing sexual harassment are led by stalwart executives who routinely take public stands against all acts of discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence, as conveyed during new employee orientation sessions, all-hands meetings and supervisory skills training events.

Secondly, these companies possess clear policies, procedures and core values designed to eliminate any instance of disrespectful behavior. Next, these companies take great pride in providing interactive training articulating the legal foundations, formal definitions, behavioral examples, desired response sets and unforgiving consequences associated with such unwanted behavior.

And finally, these companies uniformly hold all employees, business partners, customers and vendors accountable for their actions – actions which must treat all employees with sincere respect at all times.

Regardless of the type of incident, organizations must always have an appropriate response system in place. Failure to do so implies negligence.

Specifically, the company employee handbook should outline the exact steps for reporting any such incident to human resources or a company executive, and guide employees to state and federal agencies for information and support.

Organizations should have written investigative procedures necessary to collect, evaluate and document all relevant facts of each claim in a fair, thorough and timely manner. The entire investigation should be reviewed by the company management team.

Additionally, adept organizations will possess employment practices liability insurance to serve as legal defense if the response procedures yield an ineffective outcome.

In closing, it is obvious that the once-singular topic of sexual harassment has transformed into a multi-dimensional theme that can no longer be dismissed as a joke, simple misunderstanding or casual contact. It the business owner’s responsibility to assume a leadership role on this issue by addressing it holistically, strategically and sincerely as a system for protecting their employees, their organizations and their reputations.

Steve Cesare is the Harvest Group’s expert for human resources and safety. He has more than 25 years of HR experience.