Is Your Organization Prepared for Sexual Harassment Claims in Light of #metoo?

It seems that every week, an influential performer, politician, business mogul or other well-known figure joins the ranks of those accused of sexual harassment or abuse amid the burgeoning #metoo movement.

How #metoo Began a Decade Ago

But did you know the movement actually started 10 years ago?

Tarana Burke is the program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, an organization whose goal is to empower young women of color. In 1996, Burke was a youth camp director. After an all-girl bonding session, a young girl asked to speak to Burke privately and told her of the horrific abuse she was suffering at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. Burke recalled that the girl’s story left her stunned, and she whispered to herself, “Me too.” Then in October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano credited Burke with creating “Me too” and tweeted a link to her organization. The movement went viral soon after that.

The Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigates complaints of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, saw about 7,500 harassment complaints filed from October 2017 to September 2018, a 12 percent increase compared to the previous year. Also, visits to the EEOC’s sexual harassment web page more than doubled in October 2017, after the abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein broke and #MeToo became a national conversation.

Be Prepared to Handle Harassment Claims

As a CEO or HR professional, are you prepared to address any sexual harassment complaints that might be filed in your organization? Here are some tips for getting prepared to handle such complaints.

1. Understand the Definition of Sexual Harassment

According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Study this definition, and communicate it to all employees in your employee manual, on your website and in any other appropriate materials. Educate everyone in your organization about this important issue, which is a potentially costly liability for any organization.

2. Create a Sexual Harassment Policy, or Review Your Existing Policy

If you have never created a sexual harassment policy, you need to create one now. Superior Benefits can work with you to customize a policy that is appropriate for your organization. If you want to get something in place immediately, you can download a template to modify as needed.

3. Take the Complaints Seriously

Yes, there have been cases in which people have reported false stories about sexual harassment. But until you discover the truth, it is critical to take the accuser’s complaints seriously. Most claims are indeed legitimate. Set up a meeting, and have at least two witnesses present to hear his or her story. Ask questions. Take notes. Promise to investigate, and then do just that.

Be aware that women are not the only ones to experience sexual harassment. Men experience it, too, and both genders can be reluctant to report their experiences for fear of retaliation. Encourage your employees to report any behavior they think might constitute sexual harassment.

4. Make Sexual Harassment Training Mandatory

Once you have established or revised your sexual harassment policy, make it mandatory for all employees to complete the training. You don’t need to invest in producing your own training program; many companies such as Media Partners, J.J. Keller & Associates, and Compliance Training Group offer online training you can purchase.

Sexual harassment isn’t a new problem by any means, but recent developments have increased awareness about the issue and have given those who have experienced it more courage to speak out. In this era of increased attention on this issue, we at Superior Benefits want to help you be prepared.

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