Protecting Victims of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
A conversation about the role of HR, employers in preventing workplace sexual harassment
Bonnie Scherry, G&A Partners’ director of Corporate HR, recently participated in a discussion about protecting employees from workplace sexual harassment with Craig Cohen, the host of Houston Public Media’s Houston Matters podcast.
Below are some highlights from the conversation:
From an HR perspective, what are some of the concerns surrounding workplace sexual harassment?
According to Scherry, a primary concern is that some employees don’t feel comfortable coming forward if they experience sexual harassment in the workplace. She went on to say that employers should strive to create cultures where employees both know how to report sexual harassment and feel comfortable coming forward.
How can organizations foster a culture in which employees feel safe coming forward?
The key to establishing such a culture is knowing your people on an ongoing basis and establishing avenues and providing opportunities where employees feel safe to share their concerns, says Scherry.
Examples of that might include:
- Being willing to speak with employees outside of the office or in a private location in case employees are concerned about being “caught” talking to HR by the person they’re reporting;
- Having hotlines that employees can call and leave a message reporting sexually harassing behavior; and
- Other anonymous methods of reporting sexual harassment (online, etc.)
What policies and procedures should be in place in every workplace to prevent sexual harassment?
Scherry says that every workplace ought to have the following HR policies and procedures in place:
- A policy that clearly states that sexual harassment is not tolerated and any reports will be fully investigated. This policy should also provide the avenues employees can use to report harassing behavior.
- Relevant employee training that clearly defines what sexual harassment is, and how to recognize it.
How should HR respond when an employee comes forward with a complaint?
Scherry explains that one of the biggest misconceptions people have is about how difficult it is, on a personal level, for an individual to come forward or speak about sexual harassment. She goes on to say that when an employee does come forward with a concern, the immediate responsibility of the HR professional is to listen. Every allegation should be taken seriously and responded to. In so much as each complaint should receive an immediate response from HR, however, it also needs to be a thoughtful response. In the course of the initial disclosure, HR should try to get as much information as they can while remaining respectful to the fact that this is likely a distressing or uncomfortable conversation for the employee.