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5 things to do in 2018 to lessen risk of sexual harassment

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Train everyone about sexual harassment in the workplace, especially your managers.

That’s just one of the several things every organization should do in 2018 to mitigate the potential impact of sexual harassment.

Of course, addressing sexual harassment is important all of the time, but it’s especially so in the existing national climate – with explosive allegations hitting the national and regional media almost daily, perhaps triggered by last fall’s high-profile case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

But it’s not just a Hollywood issue. Sexual harassment and assault accusations affect businesses of all sizes, all across America.

Proper training is just one of the steps that businesses should take in the new year – and beyond – to reduce sexual harassment. Others include ensuring managers have the tools to react to allegations and updating your company handbook.

To be sure, all efforts are key in developing strong processes and company cultures that can better deal with such issues as sexual harassment, should they arise. Here are five, though, that are extremely important:

(1) Train all levels of staff, including executives.

No one is immune to being harassed, and harassers can exist at any level of your organization. That is why everyone in your workforce should be educated on sexual harassment.

A live training class versus a webinar or prerecorded workshop video is recommended. That’s because sexual harassment training is an opportunity for your team to ask questions and discuss the existing climate in your workplace and industry.

Through this kind of conversation and collaboration, a trainer and your human resources staff often can assess some of the roadblocks your organization might have. You simply cannot get that level of information and feedback through webinars or videos.

It’s also critical to stress that harassment training program must include executives. You only need to look at the headlines from recent news to see why even C-level executives must know what to do to avoid sexual harassment issues.

And if executives are not invested in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, that should be a huge red flag for you as a business owner.

(2) Specifically train managers on how to handle reports of harassment.

Management training would not be complete without viewing how managers handle receiving reports of harassment from employees. They have responsibilities to your organization and also to the alleged victim of harassment.

It is critical to have a protocol that not only addresses how to treat all parties involved in the incident, but also how to handle scenarios when someone in management is the accused harasser.

Make sure your management team knows how to report this. It will be scrutinized in the event of a lawsuit.

(3) After your team members are trained, make sure they have the tools they need.

Have processes and systems in place so people can properly handle harassment claims. This can include third-party hotline services, well-written policies and even documentation systems that support the best practices your team has learned in training.

Make sure you personally have an open-door policy to discuss how the company handles harassment for your management team.

Commitment from you to continuously evaluate and enforce the rules you have laid out also is important. Support managers so they can help your organization avoid a crisis.

(4) Push back on the important stuff.

When it comes to workplace requirements and scenarios that are uncomfortable to discuss, human nature may lead you to avoid confronting employees about them. Resist that urge.

Not correcting bad behavior sets a bad precedent. It also can result in a future harassment issue spiraling out of control.

The truth is that difficult conversations sometimes are needed to prevent far more difficult situations later on. These teachable moments can reveal potentially risky things that are occurring.

In addition, by pushing back on important issues that can be uncomfortable to discuss, often you can make these awkward instances few and far between.

(5) Update your handbook.

Federal, state and local laws and regulations on harassment change all the time.

Your employee handbooks should detail expectations, policies and legal obligations as an employer. Your handbook should spell out employees’ commitments and rights in well-defined and easy-to-read terms.

A good handbook also shows your organization’s commitment to doing the right thing, something that can build the kind of company culture where employees feel respected, heard and valued.

These precautionary measures are steps employers can make to open up communications with employees and protect the organization against a sexual harassment crisis.

By implementing and reinforcing practices and policies that encourage responsible handling of harassment claims, your company can not only protect itself but also build a stronger employer brand.

Tina Hamilton is president and CEO of myHR Partner Inc., an Upper Macungie Township human resources outsourcing firm that manages HR processes and projects for clients in 22 states, either in collaboration with an organization’s existing HR team or in place of one. She can be reached at tina@myhrpartnerinc.com.

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