02/01/2018 | Dee Yingst
You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard about #metoo and #timesup and the revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct being leveled at many public figures. Something that I've found troubling is some of the stories where sexual harassment and workplace romance are discussed together as though one has some sort of connection to the other. So before we talk about sexual harassment, let's be clear that it's not the same as a workplace romance and why.
A workplace romance by its definition implies consent: you have two individuals who are acting on a mutual attraction.
Sexual harassment is not consensual to [at least] one of the parties: there is nothing romantic about it.
Here's how the EEOC defines sexual harassment:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Did you catch the very first word there???? Unwelcome. It's. Right. There.
Let's stop romanticizing sexual harassment by bundling it into workplace romance conversations. That's a whole different policy conversation. Let's put that discussion away for another day and invest our energy into sexual harassment prevention through policy and training.
First, the policy. Make sure you have a strong policy that explains:
Your policy should clearly spell out what is unacceptable behavior – this is important. Most everyone knows big ones like 'do this [insert incredibly inappropriate sexual action here] for me or I'll fire/demote/not hire you' but they need to know that things like compliments that turn into graphic commentaries, persistent unwelcome comments/advances, unnecessary touching, and derogatory treatment based on gender are sexual harassment too.
Simply having the policy is not enough. Be ready to talk to your employees and train them on the importance of the policy, what constitutes harassment, and what to do if they feel they are experiencing (or are a witness to) sexual harassment. Be sure your supervisors are trained on the policy and the complaint procedure and are ready to act.
This is one of those policies that I like to classify as Wash-Rinse-Repeat: review the policy, train on the policy, and thendo it again. I generally recommend reviewing and training annually. If you see an uptick in complaints you may not want to wait a year but I would advise to make it at least an annual training for all employees and required training for new hires and new supervisors.
Make sure your workforce clearly understands your position on the prohibition of sexual harassment. Don't do it just once and think you're done. Don't stop at Wash and Rinse. Be sure to Repeat.