Implementing an Anti-Sexual Harassment Program in Your Organization

It’s important for all organizations to clearly understand what constitutes sexual harassment and have policies anti-sexual harassment policies in place. A number of organizations already have such policies in place but not all of them are created equal. This is why implementing them in a consistent and effective manner can be problematic.

The first step is to clearly articulate policies and make them available to every employee in an employee handbook. Just doing this is not enough and here are other steps to take to implement an anti-sexual harassment program.

Offer widespread and consistent training

Training is a critical component of successful implementation. It makes employees aware of policies and addresses common fears that complaints won’t be taken seriously or that victims will be blamed and have to face retaliation. They may also think that confidentiality will be violated and processes won’t be fair.

Training must be widespread and consistent. It should cover legal rights and the types of sexual harassment that can occur, such as quid pro quo and hostile workplace environment. It should also include investigation processes, confidentiality, evidentiary standards, and more.

Comprehensive training alone won’t eliminate harassment in the workplace and employees who still experience harassment in the workplace can consult with sexual harassment attorneys from and receive advice.

Create more than one reporting channel 

It may be difficult to combine the perception of confidentiality with accessibility and increasing the likelihood of reporting. Employers should have at least two access points for reporting and know their reporting options and processes.

Policies should incorporate specific instructions and offer employees’ choices such as reporting to an immediate supervisor or directly to HR. Reporting directly to HR may be necessary if the supervisor is the harasser.

Decide who is responsible for investigating harassment complaints

Different people are likely to have the responsibility for taking reports and conducting investigations. It’s best if a team investigates rather than an individual and that members of the team include both males and females. The number of people involved in any investigation should be limited to keep it more confidential.

Establish realistic deadlines

Policies should include timeframes for processes but it can be problematic that they often require victims to report within a required timeline but do not set timelines for organizational processes.

The idea that a complainant will be ready to report within a period of 10 days can be inherently unrealistic, although reports made long after harassment takes place obviously do not make sense either. Organizations that give short timeframes may reduce reporting but not harassment.

Maintain confidentiality

Fears about breaches of confidentiality are often given as the reason for not reporting harassment in the workplace. Organizations need to make breaches of confidentiality unacceptable by having procedures in place to punish offenders. The absence of mentions of confidentiality and sanctions in policies is a mistake is this gives employees the sense that it is not that important and won’t be protected.

Offer support and feedback

A victim and the perpetrator may feel isolated once a complaint has been filed and is being investigated. Providing ombudspersons for both parties can give them support.

Their role is simply to provide practical information about processes and procedures. They can share things like the consequences for violating procedures and how to provide support witnesses with confidentiality.

Apart from providing complainants with feedback, an organization also needs to inform all employees by giving data on complaints processed, workshops held, results of surveys, and disciplinary outcomes if charges are substantiated. This can help to build employee trust that processes are working and that harassment is being taken seriously.