How to Prevent Sexual Harassment: Tips for Managers


If you have watched the news, you have seen the massive outpouring of support from the community for sexual harassment victims. Those who felt they were immune to charges are now being brought into the public eye and must live up to the acts they have committed. While it is fantastic that victims are standing up and letting the world know this behavior will not be tolerated, its alarming to see their staggering numbers as they line up to state their claims.

This isn’t just a problem in Hollywood. No work environment is immune. In fact, anywhere between 25 and 85 percentOpens a new window of women report being sexually harassed in their workplace. Given the wide range of reporting, it is also easy to see that some are fearful of the backlash.

Considering these recent events, it is imperative that as a leader, you do all you can to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace and take proper steps if it occurs.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionOpens a new window states that it is unlawful to harass someone because of that person’s sex. This can include “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” The harassment does not have to be inherently sexual in nature and can include comments or statements based on the person’s gender. Examples of sexual harassment can vary, but common cases involve:

  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Distribution of inappropriate material through emails or texts
  • Online harassment, including social media, direct texting and other forms of communication
  • Using an ultimatum of sexual favors to keep a job
  • Stating demeaning comments about someone’s sex, for example,“I knew it was a bad idea to hire a woman for this job; they’re too sensitive.”
  • Unwanted touches or physically blocking someone’s path in an intimidating manner

Who Can Be a Victim of Sexual Harassment?
It is important to note that while most victims of sexual harassment are women, anyone can be harassed. In 2015, 17.1 percent of all sexual harassment claimsOpens a new window reported to the EEOC were filed by males. Harassment can take place among all ranks in the workplace and can even come from customers and clients. The harasser can also be male or female, regardless of the sex of the victim. Some men may not report because they feel their claims will not be taken seriously, so it is important to keep in mind that men can and do fall victim to harassment.

Harassment Prevention and How to Handle Claims

Implement a Sexual Harassment Policy
First and foremost, you must implement a sexual harassment policy that clearly outlines your expectations of behavior. Employees should have a complete understanding of what is and is not appropriate conduct and know their consequences if the policy is broken. Be sure to include an extensive outline of what qualifies as sexual harassment, and let employees know that it does not discriminate based on gender or rank in the company.

Educate Employees Initially and Often
When hiring a new employee, be sure that the sexual harassment policy is covered and explained thoroughly through the orientation period so they are aware of what is expected of them and of what is inappropriate behavior from others. Periodically, provide continuing and refreshing education so that policies are not forgotten.

Investigate Claims Once They Are Made
Once one of your employees states they have been harassed, further investigation into the matter should occur. Talk privately with all parties involved and with anyone who may have witnessed the events. Document all conversations, and tread lightly with comments made. You do not want the victim to feel as if reporting did not matter, or even worse, they will have negative reactions from you or other employees. Make sure the person who is being accused is aware and understands that retaliation is not acceptable. Remember that the accused could be innocent, so they need to be treated with respect throughout and after the investigation.

If the situation warrants it, do not hesitate to consult an attorney for proper guidance on sensitive legal matters surrounding the claim. Once you have come to a decision based on your investigation, adjust your workplace accordingly. Move team members to different departments or even terminate if you see fit.

Prevention Is Key, and Action Is Important
Continuing to run a tight ship with a zero-tolerance harassment policy is your first step in operating a safe and harassment-free workplace. Allowing your employees the freedom to report unacceptable behaviors without the fear of reprimand, will give them confidence in your leadership abilities to continue to provide a protected place of employment. If harassment takes place in spite of the prevention tactics you have implemented, remember to always follow through with the actions stated in your harassment policy. Consistency and education will keep you and your team members on the same page and, hopefully, avoid a harassment situation all together.

Please always consult with a lawyer for legal advice when necessary. While this article may provide you with the initial steps to take when dealing with sexual harassment, the advice given here is not to be taken in place of that of legal counsel.