There has been an explosion of sexual harassment allegations in both the press and in complaints to employers. Famous media figures, politicians, executives, and public and corporate managers have suddenly had to face the ramifications of their improper behaviors. Harassment is certainly not new. Yet now there is a new environment, new support and new motivation to come forth. Organizations, Congress and legislatures are paying attention. Enhanced policies and practices are necessary because new laws and liabilities are coming.

In many organizations sexual harassment seems all too common. Yet in others it rarely arises and is quickly and effectively addressed. What is the difference?

If your organization is one where sexual harassment seems all too common, how do you change, and create effective practices to establish a respectful workplace? If your organization is already a respectful workplace, how do you continue and enhance that status in the light of current developments and upcoming laws and liabilities?

Your policies and practices are under close scrutiny. Too many organizations, which did receive complaints, did not properly act. Now prompt and effective actions, or lack thereof, are getting much closer press and legal attention. Unfortunately, too many policies and response practices are not designed to be effective. Many supervisors do not know what to do; some cannot even tell you what the Anti-Harassment Policy covers or what it says! “Oh it’s somewhere in the handbook. I’ll read it if I ever need to.”


Here is a checklist:

Anti-Harassment Policy.

Courts have recently found a number of policies are inadequate. Is yours current?

  • Comprehensive coverage of EEO categories.
  • Emphasis to all employees (signed – not just somewhere in the pages of a thick Handbook).
  • Given to all workers – temps, student/interns/seasonals, etc. (who are often the most vulnerable).
  • Prohibits “inappropriate” behaviors – not “illegal harassment” (or you will always be on the verge of illegality) set the level well below “illegal,” to give space for correction – rather than discharge.
  • Ease of reporting.
  • Designated specific people/positions to report to (not “your supervisor” for a formal complaint).
  • More than one way and location for reporting – to provide a way around “blockages.”
  • Prompt action promise – with both an informal and formal option (not just “discipline/discharge” for every infraction – no matter how minor).
  • Guarantee of no retaliation.

A policy is just a piece of paper. Give it meaning and life. Upper management must emphasize its importance.

Implement more detailed guidelines to back up the policy; work rules on inappropriate behavior.

Training of all employees – real training. The EEOC and other experts have opined that a computer/video/post-test taken by an employee, in a little room alone, is generally ineffective. It is subject to inattention, test answers provided in advance, and may signal this shows the employer is “glossing” the issue as unimportant and pro-forma. Short training of only an hour can be seen as ineffective. It demonstrates the organization’s lack of concern. It is a “gloss,” not a real effort to educate.

Training of managers beyond the general all-employee program. Supervisors need more guidance on how to recognize, report and react to situations.

Collateral policy coordination. Other Policies may intersect and reinforce harassment policies. The policies on computer/phone/electronic usage; workplace dating/nepotism/favoritism; conflicts of interest; dress code, boundaries with clients, etc. should coordinate with the harassment policy.

Follow-ups to re-emphasize the training. “One and done” is virtually designed to fade and fail over time. Keep the message alive, in small doses over time (articles, clippings, short part of meeting agendas periodically).

Process & Action
Thorough review of the process for handling complaints.

  • Review of current process and protocols.
  • Flexibility.
  • Fairness to complainant and those complained about – non-discriminatory; due process.
  • Protocols for corrective action and for communicating findings of no improper behaviors.
  • Anti-retaliation protocols.

Processes for handling even more sensitive issues:

  • Child labor/juvenile workers’ complaints, and improper behaviors toward employees by these same juveniles.
  • Students, patients, those with special vulnerabilities.

Hopefully, by investing time now in your anti-harassment policies and training, you will be able to avoid becoming a headline. Or, at the very least, you will be in a much better position to defend yourself. This issue is not going away any time soon and employers would be wise to make this a priority.