Sexual harassment unfortunately still exists in today’s day and age. Every company is liable to take precautions to avoid such behaviour in the company. What’s more, if a company doesn’t have the right Sexual harassment policy and process in place it can lead to lawsuits and compliance issues.
The best weapon against sexual harassment is prevention. Harassment does not vanish on its own. When the issue isn’t solved, the harassment will intensify and turn out to be increasingly hard to cure over the long haul. Therefore, if a crime is reported, quick actions should be taken.
To make sure the HR department is prepared to take the necessary steps it is important to create a thorough sexual harassment policy. Furthermore, sexual harassment in a workplace is a heinous crime and a company should support the employees if they want to press charges for it.
In this article, we will understand what sexual harassment is, what sexual harassment policy is and what the HR department can do to avoid it.
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Definition Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment is any type of unwelcome sexual conduct that is hostile, humiliating or scaring. It can be defined as any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Furthermore, if a submission or rejection of the same affects an individual’s employment decisions, employee’s term or conditions of employment or interfere’s with an employee’s work environment then it is classed as sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can be verbal, written or even physical. It can happen in person or online. Furthermore, any gender can be a victim of sexual harassment.
The objective covers why you’ve created the policy and what you hope to achieve with it.
The objective of the workplace sexual harassment policy should be to define sexual harassment in the workplace and to outline the process of filing the complaints, investigating and issuing disciplinary the right measures.
The scope of the policy talks about who the policy applies to. If the policy applies to investors, clients or executives then you should mention that.
The scope of the Sexual Harassment policy should be wide. It should be applied to all the members of the company. The policy should cover sexual harassment within the company premise and outside the company premise.
The policy should cover everyone, regardless of their gender, caste or religion. Furthermore, the workplace sexual harassment policy should also protect customers, clients or any guest visiting the office premises.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment can include someone:
✅ Touching, grabbing or any other physical contact without consent.
✅ Comments with sexual meanings
✅ Requests for sexual favours
✅ Sexual misconduct eg jokes, comments, personal questions, etc
✅ Suggestive gestures or body movements
✅ Making an obscene phone call or indecently exposing oneself
✅ Sexually assaulting
Importance of a Sexual Harassment Policy in The Workplace
A sexual harassment policy works as a way to protect the men and women in a company from unwanted sexual advances. A well established sexual harassment policy works as a guideline for when an incident occurs.
✅ It provides an established framework to handle the situation.
✅ Mentions the consequences of the actions
✅ Removes any confusion about what sexual harassment is.
✅ Promotes a safe work environment
A sexual harassment policy clearly outlines what is sexual harassment and the consequences of the same. It is important to implement a thorough sexual harassment policy and to
Employers and managers play a key role in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. They are the ones’ who set the tone of the company. It is their job to lead by an example, to model respectful behaviour and promote good conduct throughout the organization. A positive work culture where everyone respects each other is vital. It significantly lessens the chances of sexual harassment taking place in the organization. However, if it does happen then the sexual harassment policy will empower the employees to come forward.
Sexual harassment is harmful to all of us. Harassment damages the whole working environment and leads to poor morale, it promotes the feeling of insecurity and invites legal consequences. Additionally, the liability lies with the employer in case of harassment by a superior that results in tangible unrest with the organization.
Legal Act of 2013
The Indian Penal Code has an act established in 2013 which seeks to offer protection to women in their place of work. The act defines sexual harassment and establishes it as a criminal offence. Therefore, it is a criminal offence to sexually harass a woman. Furthermore, legal actions can be taken for the same.
However, the act has a long way to still go. The act currently only protects women from men. The law is criticised for not including men and women in the military workforce or the women in agriculture. They too deserve to be protected from unwanted sexual advances.
How to Report Sexual Harassment?
The process starts when a complaint is submitted. HR professionals should start moving quickly after that. The HR professional can assist the victim in creating a written statement or, if the victim is not willing to provide information in writing, the HR director can dictate the verbal complaint.
You can either write an email to the HR department or ask for an urgent meeting with an HR manager.
Things to include in the written complaint –
✅ Mention your name, department and position of the person that allegedly committed harassment.
✅ Describe the incident with details like date, location and the presence of any witnesses.
✅ Highlight the effect of the incident.
✅ Mention the name of other individuals who might have been subjected to the same or similar harassment.
✅ Include any other information that is important.
Procedures of the Sexual Harassment Policy
Once a formal complaint has been received, the HR department must take swift actions. They start with the collection of as much information as possible. This helps to build a case and gives some evidence to an investigator.
It is assumed that all employees are informed about company policies and the repercussions of the same.
1. Collect as Much Information as Possible
Before taking any step further. You should collect as much information about the situation as possible. Understand who was present and when such things happened. Furthermore, collect any evidence that you can find.
2. Take Immediate Action
Hear the victim’s story and try understanding their situation. Take the correct action and inform the executives about the situation. Furthermore, collect more evidence to help the investigator.
3. Choose an Investigator – Either Internal or External
According to your company’s policy set up an internal or an external team to investigate the situation. The investigation should be completely unbiased and should collect further evidence.
4. Ensure Both The Parties Are Informed About The Next Steps
Keeping both the parties in the loop will help the victim feel less scared and will help them understand that the necessary actions are being taken. While keeping the allegedly accused party informed will ensure that they can help prove their innocence.
5. Conduct an Interview With The Victim
Have a sit-in interview where the matter can be discussed. This way both the parties can be heard. This will help the investigators understand the situation in relation to the evidence that they have.
6. Come to a Conclusion About The Investigation
The investigations team then comes to a conclusion about the same. If the victim is not happy with the conclusion then they can use the evidence to file a legal case on the harasser.
7. Ensure workplace comfort about the investigation
It is the duty of the HR department to ensure that the workplace is a safe environment for the employees. The HR department should take lessons from the incident and update its policies accordingly.
8. Follow Up With The Involved Parties
All the parties involved should be followed up with. This will bring clarity about the current situation. The HR department should ensure that the parties are comfortable in their roles after the issue has been resolved.
Disciplinary actions that an HR department can take are according to the company policies –
The HR department should take disciplinary actions according to the company policies. The actions in relation to the sexual harassment complaint should be taken very seriously by the company. Necessary steps should be taken to ensure that if the harasser is guilty, they are disciplined.
Taking the right steps here will either stop or promote sexual misconduct in a company. The actions should be taken according to the severity of the offence. State the violations of the company policy.
The employee’s safety, value and ethics are at stake. Whatever decision the employer a.k.a the HR department takes is what the employees will expect from the company in the future.
Disciplinary actions that an HR department can take (if the person is a first time offender of sexual harassment and not assault) are:
✅ Freeze of promotions or salary increase for a year.
✅ Bad performance review
✅ May receive a transfer, demotion, a suspension, a penalty or a legal fine.
✅ For serious activities, the sexual harasser will likely face criminal charges and will be dismissed.
It is extremely important to keep the details of the matter private. All the complaints and investigation should be conducted privately. This will allow victims to come forth and will help the investigators to conduct their investigation in a simple manner.
Furthermore, the details of the case should be stored secretly with the HR department.
How to Avoid Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?
It is your responsibility as an HR professional to do more than just the minimum when it comes to avoiding sexual harassment in the workplace. Ensure that the work environment is safe for everyone and the employees can approach the HR department with ease.
✅ First and foremost, the HR department should create a culture of respect and trust in the workplace.
✅ Conduct regular training about sexual harassment and educate employees about what is sexual harassment and how to create a safe environment for each other
✅ Conduct training for HR department professionals. Remind them about the process and the key steps to take if an employee reports being sexually harassed.
✅ Have clear reporting procedures in place
✅ Incorporate staff welfare in review meetings and appraisals
✅ Have a thorough sexual harassment policy along with the consequences in place
✅ Have a dedicated person to review any allegations immediately.
✅ Ensure the employees know that there is a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment in your company.
However, if an issue of sexual harassment still arises to ensure that every allegation is taken seriously and is addressed immediately. Proper redressal of a sexual harassment complaint will set a precedence for other employees. This will ensure the safety of the employees while it will also discourage the behaviour from occurring in the future.
A case of sexual harassment is a very grave matter. It means that an employee is not safe at their workplace. That is an experience that no employee should have. Which is why it is important to maintain the right sexual harassment policy in the workplace. It will help the HR department to take quick actions and give quick suggestions to the executives.
Similarly, every company should have harassment policies in place to ensure justice is provided.
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