In just 18 short months, the #MeToo movement has jolted the workplace in ways few other issues ever have. As women – and men – come forward to speak out about having been victims, sexual harassment has grabbed headlines and become a key issue business owners and managers face.
#MeToo has changed expectations for the workplace. “Boys will be boys” banter or referring to a colleague as “honey” are no longer acceptable practices, nor should they have ever been, about which company leaders should just shake their heads and move on. The movement has underscored the need for employers to adopt a zero-tolerance stance and take steps to ensure sexual harassment is not occurring in their workplaces.
Five Sexual Harrassment Workplace Rules
The #MeToo era has advanced five new “rules” in the workplace:
- Touching may be suspect, and it’s completely unacceptable if it makes a colleague feel uncomfortable.
- Off-color jokes, emails and texts have no place in interactions with colleagues, either inside or outside the workplace; nor should the culture support an “it’s harmless and in good fun” mindset.
- Displays of a sexual or discriminating nature, such as photos, calendars, posters or other graphic displays, are incongruous with a healthy, respectful workplace.
- Sincere, courteous compliments can help build rapport among co-workers, but it’s best to limit these remarks to the individual’s quality of work, especially until a relationship of trust has been established. Compliments about appearance or clothing may be misconstrued, and comments about body parts are always off limits.
- Derogatory words and phrases are demeaning and undermine a culture of mutual respect. Under Title VII, even non-sexual use of such terms may constitute sexual harassment if they are lobbed at an individual because of his or her gender.
To put real numbers with the findings of an ABC News - Washington Post poll, 33 million U.S. women have experienced sexual harassment at work, while 14 million have been sexually abused. Click to read more starling statistics.
Steps Business Owners Should Take
Business owners and managers who desire a harassment-free workplace should:
- Draft an unambiguous, written anti-harassment policy that defines what constitutes harassment and includes examples of prohibited behaviors. The policy should be distributed to all employees (often as part of the employee handbook) when they are hired. It should be posted or made accessible electronically where employees will be reminded regularly of the company’s expectations.
- Establish a clear and consistent process for responding to and investigating any report of harassment. Employees should understand how to report harassment if they see it. Claims should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. Everyone involved – the victim or another employee who reports the alleged harassment, as well as any employees who are questioned as witnesses – should be assured that speaking up will not put them at risk for retaliation.
- Train all company leaders to set the standard for a respectful, inclusive, non-retaliatory culture. Managers and supervisors should be well-trained on the company’s anti-harassment policies and how to appropriately handle claims of harassment.
The #MeToo movement has brought sexual harassment in the workplace into the spotlight. If you have not already taken a second (or third) look at what your company currently does to create and maintain a harassment-free work environment, now is the time to do so.