Often, when people think about sexual harassment, they have images of someone being groped or crude suggestions. However, in a legal sense, harassment definitions are like The Blob… continuously growing and moving.
The California Chamber of Commerce’s HRCalifornia Extra recently came up with a list we like because it highlights some often overlooked things that might be considered harassment today.
- Social Media — We now need to pay attention to what coworkers say to other coworkers in social media during or after hours. Just because they post something after work doesn’t mean it can’t feel harassing to the employee receiving the post. And you’ll need to deal with it.
- Looking — Female employees told me how uncomfortable they were because a male employee was watching them whenever they left or entered the workspace. Staring, glaring, and leering is often offensive but won’t always be harassing, depending on the situation. Just looking at someone isn’t the problem; the problem is when it makes the other person uncomfortable.
- Field Employees — Whether you have field employees going into other companies or you have another company’s employees coming into your business, you need to be aware of harassment potential. Yes, you can be held liable for allowing someone into your company who harasses one of your employees. Plus, you can be sued if your field employees harasses someone at a client or vendor site.
- Not Sexually Motivated — There was a court case about several guys making sexual comments to one guy. They said there was no sexual intent so it couldn’t be harassment. The judge disagreed. Harassment is harassment, with or without sexual intent.
- Consensual Relationship — Office romances happen so how do you tell those who are together by choice versus those who might feel forced into the relationship? Some clients use a written Consensual Relationship Agreement to take harassment off the table. For the rest of you, look for the power… are you aware that one of the people in the relatiosnhip might have power over the other? If so, look deeper.
- Once is Enough — While severe or pervasive behavior may be the standard, it doesn’t mean a single event can’t be harassing if it is severe or blatant enough.
- Keeping Quiet — Just because a person doesn’t tell someone to stop, doesn’t mean they like what is happening or what they are hearing. They could even laugh when you tell a joke and later file a complaint about that joke.
- Complaint Format — As a California business, you are now required to have a written Harassment Prevention Policy distributed to all employees. You also need to give employees a way to make a complaint other than in writing. Your managers need to be trained so they can recognize the different forms of potential harassment and report it so you can investigate appropriately.
- Higher Bar — When writing a harassment policy, have a policy that is more strict than the law. This way you’re dealing with failure to follow your policy before you’re dealing with violating harassment laws.
- Confidentiality — No matter how much an employee may beg you to keep what they tell you confidential, it’s just not possible. You can promise to maintain confidentiality as much as possible, but you can’t investigate the claim if you can’t talk to others. Every person in management must know to report potential claims, even if it doesn’t follow the chain of command.
Employees want and deserve to work without being harassed or feeling uncomfortable. You have a legal responsibility to make that happen but the first step is recognizing all the variations of harassment. Consider training every supervisory employee, even if you aren’t legally required to do so. In the end, the cost of training is extremely low compared to the risks resulting from a lack of training.