Sexual Harassment Policies

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Very few people--except the willfully obtuse--fail to appreciate how important sound sexual harassment policies are in the workplace and public venues. The imperatives are financial as well as moral and constitutional. At the same time, human behavior and inclinations being what they are, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of one person interpreting an action or remark as sexual harassment. As an employer, however, you are far better off understanding exactly what it is and how you can recognize it in the workplace.

What is sexual harassment, then? In the workplace, it amounts to an employee being treated unfairly because of their gender. This might be what is called quid pro quo harassment, which is--to take an example--when a promotion is offered (however informally) in exchange for a sexual favor or favors. Hostile work environment harassment is another typical form. Lewd behavior, unwelcome remarks, and pornographic images or objects are good examples.

Understanding the Need for a Sexual Harassment Policy

A sexual harassment lawsuit can cause a company serious problems, financial settlements and dismissals aside. The damage done to corporate image and employee morale is generally very hard to reverse. The best way to offset such a possibility is to have a complete and strongly enforced sexual harassment policy both in place and well advertised within the company and to the public. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the basis for sexual harassment law.

Traditionally, sexual harassment has been identified with physical behavior. Since the advent of the Internet and IT, however, it has found new form. Specifically, this refers to email, whether intranet or Internet. A rigorous computer security system and firewall are critical to forestalling--as much as it is possible--this avenue of sexual harassment.

In formulating a policy for your own company, you'll do well to look at sample generic policies available from business and legal service firms. Clearly, drafting a policy calls for a pool of management. Ideally, the team would comprise expert consultants and/or representatives from human resources, legal affairs, accounting, and IT departments.

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