What Employers Should Cover in Their Sexual Harassment Policies
Providing employees with a carefully drafted sexual harassment policy communicates respect and helps everyone stay focused while doing their best work. To make sure you include the most critical legal passages, it’s always best to meet with your lawyer -- who can also help you address any special needs of your workforce.
Here’s a brief overview of the most crucial components of this type of policy. As you read over the list, jot down any questions that come to mind since they may help you have a more productive meeting with your Houston employment law attorney.
Key information that should be included in most sexual harassment policies
A general statement about why you’ve created the policy. It’s important to note that your company recognizes that every employee has the right to work in a safe environment. No employee should ever be coerced into developing a sexual relationship in order to keep a job. Likewise, sexually suggestive or offensive behavior should never be inflicted on anyone;
A detailed definition of sexual harassment – preferably one that also provides specific examples of the different types of verbal and non-verbal behaviors that are covered. Clearly indicate that sexual harassment always involves unwelcome behavior that tends to offend, intimidate or upset others. It can even include something as simple as posting sexually suggestive cartoons and other materials in the workplace. Also note that your company will not tolerate any sexually harassing behavior between parties of the same sex;
A statement that your policy also provides protection against third-party harassment. Your company’s customers, clients, contractors and others will never be allowed to sexually harass your employees;
There must be a detailed description of your complaint procedures. Employees must be told that you’ll respond to all complaints in a private, confidential manner – and will conduct all necessary investigations in as professional manner as possible. It’s also important to note that you’ll try to have at least two senior staff members trained (and available) to handle these complaints – one woman and one man. Workers should be extended the courtesy of being able report their complaints to someone of their own gender.
Offer your employees both an informal way of processing complaints – and a more formal approach. After all, some employees aren’t interested in filing a legal claim against the alleged abuser – they’re mainly interested in stopping the abuse and returning to work (perhaps in a new department). However, you must provide clear information to each complaining party that s/he has the right to file a more formal complaint with the EEOC. Finally, you must also state that your company will not tolerate any type of retaliation against the alleged victim – regardless of the position held by the party who has been accused of the sexually inappropriate behavior;
Provide a commitment that your company will try to expedite the complaint process as much as possible, recognizing the needs of all involved. However, you should also explain the different types of interviews that may need to be conducted so that all parties have the chance to be fully heard. Employees must also be told that if the complaint involves unusually aggressive behavior – or if multiple complaints have been recently received regarding the same alleged offender, it may be necessary to turn over part or all of the investigation to an outside, objective party hired for that specific purpose;
Name some of the specific disciplinary steps that will be taken if the company’s investigation finds that harassment has occurred.
The offending party will receive a written or verbal reprimand
A negative performance evaluation will be placed in the wrongdoer’s personnel file
There may be a reduction in wages
A demotion or transfer may be imposed on the wrongdoer. In some instances, the victim may be allowed to obtain a transfer;
The offending party may be forced to accept an immediate suspension -- or just be fired. (Make sure all these possible forms of discipline are noted in your company’s employee handbook).
Be sure your company has a policy of requiring every new employee – regardless of rank – to undergo sexual harassment training as part of their initial company orientation. Furthermore, all employees should be required to take an annual refresher course on this topic. (You may want to include a statement about this training requirement in your sexual harassment policy).
When designing or choosing a sexual harassment training program for your employees, always make sure it includes a “question and answer” segment since employees often need to ask questions to be sure they fully understand the different behaviors that co-workers may consider offensive.
Our lawyers always welcome inquiries from both new and established clients seeking advice on employment law matters. We’re also fully prepared to draft the many contracts you may need to run your business as your clients obtain the many goods and services you currently offer. Feel free to contact us so we can schedule an appointment at your convenience.