Sexual harassment is a big problem in the modern workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state agencies handled a total of 11,364 sexual harassment charges in 2011 (the most recent combined reporting data). Of those cases, 26 percent were decided in favor of complainants, with employers of all sizes paying out $52.3 million in victim settlements in that year alone.
Sexual harassment can happen to, and be committed by, workers of any professional level or gender. It is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that it is unlawful to harass a person in the workplace. However, this federal regulation applies only to employers with 15 or more employees, and even businesses that pass that threshold are not legally required to have an official sexual harassment policy.
Despite the amount of harassment reported, 67 percent of small employers have no anti-harassment rules or training in place, according to a new Manta poll on small business sexual-harassment protocols. Forty-one percent of respondents said sexual harassment policies were "unnecessary given [their] small number of employees," and 11 percent said such rules were "too PC [politically correct] for [their] company's culture."
"I've had clients complain that the work environment is casual or not very regimented, so implementing training and written policies results in pushback from employees who aren't used to such rules," Gordon Berger, a labor and employment attorney at FordHarrison in Atlanta told Manta. [See Related Story: Bullying in the Office: Why You Need a Policy]
Why your business needs a harassment policy
It's important for employees to feel protected in the workplace. Implementing an official policy gives employees step-by-step directions for identifying and reporting harassment, and following through with their harassment claims, saidJohn Swanciger, CEO of Manta.
"A harassment policy outlines inacceptable acts and behaviors," Swanciger told Business News Daily. "Regardless of the size of your business, having a policy in place not only protects your employees, but also yourself as a business owner. Creating and publicizing … a zero-tolerance policy and reporting guidelines will ensure everyone is operating on the same page."
Coming up with an official harassment policy may seem daunting or overwhelming, but it is a necessity for the health of your employees and business as a whole.
"In the absence of an official HR department, small business owners should seek resources like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and free online courses to effectively implement sexual harassment protocols," Swanciger said. "Business owners should also look into how companies [that are] similar in size or industry have structured their policies."
Swanciger noted that small business owners should outline what their policies are and their meaning, as well as ongoing training programs. This will help prevent employees from misinterpreting the policy and claiming they were unaware of its existence.
"If a sexual harassment claim were to occur, the policies provide a solid legal defense that can protect small business owners from costly lawsuits," Swanciger said.
An effective harassment policy helps employees understand appropriate work behavior and ensures fair treatment at the workplace. Swanciger advised small businesses to consider working with outside HR consultants or employment lawyers to help craft policies.