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How can your employer prevent sexual harassment?

The New York Times recently published an article that discussed a variety of steps that experts say employers can take to reduce the amount of sexual harassment in the workplace. This article provides helpful information that you could present to your employer if it is interested in addressing problems of harassment in the workplace.

The experts who spoke to the New York Times identified five things that employers should do:

(1) Bystander training – Oftentimes victims of harassment have allies that do not know how they can best help the victim. Employers should train employees on how they can help victims. This type of training is still rare in companies but colleges, the military, and non-profit organizations have successfully used it.

(2) Civility training – Sexual harassment training usually just tells people what sexual harassment is and how they should report it. This type of focus on how employees should not behave is not as helpful if the employer does not also provide training to employees on how they should behave. By establishing a workplace culture of civility and respect, employers can prevent harassment from occurring because, of course, harassment is uncivil and disrespectful.

(3) Frequent and serious training – Sexual harassment training should be done frequently and in-person. Information about what sexual harassment is and how it can be reported should be incorporated into training on other issues in the workplace, and not just at one-time annual standalone training sessions. Also, an employee’s supervisor is usually a more effective trainer than someone from HR with no authority over the employee.

(4) Promote women – Many studies have found that organizations with more women in management have fewer sexual harassment problems.

(5) Encourage complaints – Employers often view harassment complaints as a headache they’d rather avoid and, thus, either explicitly or implicitly discourage employees from complaining. This type of “head in the sand” approach is counterproductive and will likely exacerbate harassment problems in the workplace. Instead, employers should expressly encourage employees to complain about harassment. The EEOC, in fact, recommends that employers looking to encourage complaints should reward managers when the number of their employees making harassment complaints increases. This type of reward system would not work as a long term strategy but it can help in the short term to change the culture in the workplace.

These five steps will help in most workplaces but they are not an exhaustive list of things that employers must do to prevent harassment. Another good source of information for employers is the report of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group can also provide helpful information to employees who work for an employer with a harassment problem.