In the 1980s, after a $1 million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit against the government, I developed and conducted the first-ever training for federal employees. Fast forward thirty years and the workplace is still rampant with sexual harassment claims and lawsuits.
In 2006, the largest sexual harassment lawsuit ever, at $1 billion dollars, was filed. The complaint cites lewd behavior and reduced opportunities for women who returned to the job after maternity leave.
Sexual harassment in the workplace presents an ongoing and growing risk. From a purely business perspective, your organization stands to gain if it acts proactively. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Here are five tips:
- Act before a problem occurs. Failure to adopt a proactive and aggressive stance can result in costly lawsuits (averaging $250,000 not including legal fees), as well as loss of employee morale, decline in productivity, and erosion of an organization’s public image. It is less expensive to act now than to be involved in one lawsuit.
- Implement policies. Include sexual harassment, discrimination and dress code policies in your employee manual.
- Educate employees. The Supreme Court made it clear that training may protect an organization in a lawsuit. Educate employees about organizational policies and provide clear examples of inappropriate behavior.
- Make it safe to voice complaints. Implement a reporting system and make employees aware of it. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against an individual for filing or supporting charges of discrimination. Train leaders how to listen and respond appropriately to complaints.
- Hold leaders accountable to model your company values. When leaders fail to live up to your organization’s values, employees become de-motivated and angry. Provide ongoing training, coaching and review of your leaders.