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Managing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Published October 15, 2020 (last updated June 2, 2022) - NZ Operations Manager

Did you know that harassment at the workplace costs New Zealand an average of $1billion per year? Sexual harassment cases at the workplace have been prominent lately and if sexual harassment isn’t already a pressing issue for employers, it should be.

A major film company has recently made the headlines after a former employee accused them of terminating her contract after she raised sexual harassment complaints. There was also a case of the most recent ex-Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Iain Lees-Galloway, being fired for an inappropriate workplace affair.

As a small business owner, you should always promote consideration of workplace culture and do not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination, to prevent a toxic work environment. Such an environment is not only detrimental to workplace relations but also stifles employee productivity.

Here are the top ways you can manage sexual harassment in the workplace.

1.  Have an Anti-Harassment Training Program

Can your employees recognize and prevent sexual harassment? Train all your workers on the appropriate workplace behaviour and how to deal with instances of harassment. If you have frontline supervisors that help you enforce rules, ensure they understand your commitment towards this cause. They need to know when to escalate such cases.

The training needs to include the empowerment of employees to take action when they witness harassment and ways in which the victim can raise their concerns.

Don’t assume that your employees automatically know what sexual harassment entails…train them! It may be difficult to identify instances of sexual discrimination and harassment, but you need to address all red flags. Sometimes the offences don’t take place in the office (social media and out-of-office events) so have all the bases covered.

2.  Put in Place Effective Reporting and Response Protocols

Encourage your employees to report any offences promptly and assure them that they will be responded to. The sad truth is that most sexual harassment never gets reported either because they are afraid of being discriminated against or they don’t know who to report to.

Do your employees have a person they can confide in if they feel harassed? Can your workers report to their supervisors without feeling uncomfortable?

Put in place clear reporting procedures and provide multiple avenues for people to air out their grievances. There are those that would prefer to report anonymously, while others will not be afraid to speak up. Cater to all of them!

Address all complaints promptly and don’t get defensive when a victim speaks up. Conduct a thorough investigation and when you can’t be objective, use an external party.

3.  Define Sexual Harassment Clearly To Your Employees

Most people assume that sexual harassment only occurs if there’s inappropriate physical touch involved, but there’s much more. Your employees need to know this.  Sexual harassment involves all unwelcome sexual behaviour that makes the other party uncomfortable or creates a hostile work environment. This could be anything from inappropriate comments, ridicule, offensive jokes, etc.

There are two main types of sexual harassment;

  1. Quid pro quo: This term basically means ‘this for that’. It is when employees are asked for sexual favours in exchange for workplace privileges.
  2. Hostile work environment: this is a situation where a person’s behaviour or comments are so offensive that the workplace environment becomes demeaning and abusive to the other party.

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4.  Enforce Professionalism

The line between personal and professional can be very thin in small businesses because they often have a casual working environment. This tends to reduce personal boundaries, and cases of inappropriate behaviours and comments can easily come up.

Too much familiarity in the workplace can result in problematic interactions and could lead to a successful grievance against the employer. If your employees hear you making unprofessional comments they will assume it is acceptable. In addition, while friendships in the workplace can be a good thing for engagement keep an eye out for employees using overly familiar language or actions with each other. While the recipient may or may not be comfortable with this, it could also affect others in the workplace. If you see any inappropriate behavior or receive any complaints of this nature in the workplace, make sure to investigate these and let your employees know that you are against any form of harassment.

5.  Establish Shared Values

Your management style highly defines your workplace culture. You largely impact how employees behave at the workplace and how comfortable they are reporting harassment cases.

Establish a positive workplace culture by demonstrating proper values and a commitment to an all-inclusive workplace.

6.  Work with Your Employees to Create Policies

Working with your employees towards a solution makes them more receptive. Create your sexual harassment policy with them and let them express their opinion on how harassment cases should be handled. This will make it easier for them to comply with the set policies.

Eliminate Sexual Harassment at The Workplace

A sexual harassment scandal can bring down even the mightiest of companies. Protect all your employees by creating a safe work environment where their voices can be heard. A harassment-free organization begins with a comprehensive sexual harassment policy.

Would you like more information on how to manage sexual harassment and discrimination in your workplace? Get in touch with Employsure on 0800 568 012 for further information.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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