Elevating Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies

First, it was radical.  Then, it was controversial.  Then, it was mandated through various approaches to federal legislation and judicial decisions.  And then, at some fairly recent point, sexual harassment awareness training and prevention became standard, not only for businesses to conduct, but also for employees to expect.

How far we have progressed since 1964.  In that year, it was Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that formalized sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination in the employment setting.  And, in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments extended these principles into education and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

We’re all familiar with a basic definition of sexual harassment as unwelcome conduct that either explicitly or implicitly unreasonably interferes with an employee’s performance of their job responsibilities by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive workplace.  Examples of this type of impermissible conduct can include overt sexual advances, offers to exchange workplace favors for sexual favors, and so-called humor of a sexual nature especially if management is unresponsive to complaints.

The fact that more than 10,000 sexual harassment claims are filed annually to the federal EEOC tells us that people recognize the seriousness of and exhibit a determination to overcome sexual harassment.

The modern question on sexual harassment in the workplace really comes down to fine-tuning through the use of an anonymous hotline.  You likely already have company policies, training, and a response protocol and team members.  But do you have a hotline and is it fully integrated into these three stages of an anti-harassment corporate culture?

The anonymous hotline offers employees, management, and the public the opportunity to report valuable information to your company so that you can conduct a prompt investigation, remediate the situation, and complete any mandatory government reporting.  Hotlines can facilitate data reporting at an early stage in the conduct, particularly when it is an anonymous hotline managed by a third party vendor which creates that extra layer of security that reported data is, indeed, anonymous.

You can boost the value to your company of the anonymous reporting hotline when you build it into all written training materials and other presentations.  It’s not just about publishing the hotline telephone number or website; it’s about explaining to employees and management how the hotline works, how it is staffed, how the tip is transmitted to the company, and the how and who will respond on behalf of the company.

Of the various complaints that can be filed through a hotline, the sexual harassment claim may be the most sensitive, and so potentially the most natural fit for the anonymous, out-sourced hotline.  Employers would do well to go that step beyond a written policy against harassment to elevate the policy into a functional part of company culture by instituting an anonymous hotline and website submission feature, provided through Ethical Advocate.