By David A. Mollicone, Esq and Monika Khaltsev
Even in the most synergistic of workplaces, sexual harassment looms large as a difficult issue for both employees and employers. This is especially true in this era of the “Silence Breakers” and “Me Too” movements. It has never been more incumbent on an employer to make sure they have proper policies and protocols in place in order to protect both itself and its employees from a hostile work environment.
Initially, an employer needs to have a comprehensive, written sexual harassment policy. The policy must be prominently placed in the employee handbook and circulated to the employees. The policy should communicate the law to employees, include specific reporting details and clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved. A well-drafted policy should offer clear guidance, timelines and details on how to access and file claims. Finally, the policy should include a promise of confidentiality to the highest degree possible, in order to foster an environment where employees are not fearful of reporting potential violations.
Because many employees may fear retaliation or loss of their jobs, it can be difficult for an employee to come forward and accurately report an incident. Once the policy is established and the employees are made aware of it, employees should feel comfortable that if and when they report an incident, it will be handled professionally by management. Technology can be helpful as there are even new websites and smart phone applications that can assist employers in making reporting easier and more convenient for employees.
Once a policy and protocols are established, if an incident is reported, employers should take immediate action to investigate the claim. The investigative process needs to be carried out swiftly, objectively, and documented thoroughly. If an employee’s claim is deemed valid after investigation, disciplinary action should ensue. Depending on the violation, discipline could entail a range of options, from additional training for employees to the termination of an offender. However, once a claim is concluded, an employer should provide clear guidance on how all parties should treat one another and be prepared to follow-up in order to make sure that compliance with policies continues.