For those who are unfamiliar, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has been accused by 16 different women of various incidents of sexual harassment. The acts range from him touching the women inappropriately, making inappropriate sexual comments and asking different women about their marital statuses and if they would go out on dates with him. A complete list of the women and their accusations is here.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
- Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
With 1 in 4 women reporting to have experienced sexual harassment at work and 1 in 10 men reporting to have experienced this as well, companies should be taking extra measures to ensure that this isn’t a problem in their offices.
The current Filner scandal is a tragedy, but can be also used as a wakeup call for employers. Below are just 5 of the things organizations can learn about sexual harassment from this case:
Make sure all your sexual harassment policies are always up to date. Review them annually or quarterly to see if any changes need to be made. This will help ensure that both managers and employees are well aware of company policies. It will also show you what (if anything) needs to be adjusted/changed. For example, if your company has a policy that every complaint must be filed through a document on the company’s intranet system, yet you notice most people with complaints don’t do this, it may be time to adjust or change this policy.
Periodically survey staff about sexual harassment to see if it’s an issue (and unreported issue) in your company. Many times workers may feel like they’ve been harassed, but are too embarrassed to report this. Conducting a survey every six months or annually can help you see if this is an issue that goes unreported. Surveys will also show you whether or not staff is aware of what sexual harassment means and how to report cases.
Constantly alert staff of your company’s open-door policy when it comes to sexual harassment. Ensure them about confidentiality and the importance of reporting any harassment. This will show staff your company cares about their safety and well-being in the workplace.
Take Allegations Seriously
Who knows why it took the 16 women so long to report Filner’s behavior? Perhaps they thought about how he holds such a high position of power and who would believe their words over the mayor’s? Don’t allow this mindset to infiltrate your employees’ thinking. Take every allegation seriously and follow up until the case is completely resolved so employees will know sexual harassment isn’t tolerated or taken lightly in your organization.
Hire Outside Investigators/Counselors
This may sound extreme, but it could prove beneficial. Using a third party may help employees be more forthcoming if they don’t feel comfortable with HR. What if a worker knows that the person who harassed him/her is a friend of someone in HR? Or the harasser works in HR? Don’t you think this will make it harder for him/her to report the incident?
Hiring outside parties to monitor sexual harassment in your workplace will also show staff how serious your company is about sexual harassment. It shows you aim to be fair by having an outside source—one not affiliated or invested in your workplace—handle this area.