How Companies Can Protect Their Workers From Sexual Harassment

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The sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein have led to him being fired by the board of The Weinstein Company which he co-founded. The statement released cited that he had violated company code after the rampant allegations spanning over years came to light.  This was clearly a move to save face and control damage before even more people withdrew their association with the company. In light of these circumstances, it is prudent for companies to revisit their company culture in order to determine the risks their employees may be facing. This is necessary because such allegations rarely fizzle out without significantly affecting the brand.

The Employment Act defines sexual harassment as any kind of behaviour that makes the victim feel uncomfortable, using language whether written or spoken or visual material of a sexual nature. It goes on to state that a worker will be considered sexually harassed if the employer or its representative or co-worker request for any form of sexual favour in order to get preferential treatment in the workplace; or threaten the worker with detrimental treatment on present or future employment status of the worker. The Act does not prescribe any punishment and it is therefore up to the employer to put in place a comprehensive policy prohibiting sexual harassment.

According to Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, there are 3 steps a company should take to make sure the company protects workers. This is creating workplace policy, carrying out training and drafting consensual agreements.

  1. WORKPLACE POLICY

The policy must at length define behaviour that falls under harassment which may include but not be limited to sexually offensive comments and jokes, inappropriate staring or leering, unwelcome physical contact and intrusive questions about colleagues’ private lives or physical appearance. In definition, it must be gender-neutral because both men and women are likely offenders.

It must include well-outlined steps in the process of filing a sexual harassment claim. This is to make sure that victims do not feel helpless. The procedure which should ideally involve the human resources department as well as the legal team should be straightforward to ensure that action is taken immediately and not trap the victim in an endless cycle of bureaucracy while still at the mercy of her abuser.

Most importantly, the policy guidelines must include the disciplinary action to be taken against employees found guilty of harassment. The measures taken should be proportionate and exerted with immediacy to show a zero tolerance stance which will deter would-be perpetrators. In the same vein, the policy must condemn discrimination of victims who come forward. It must clearly show that there will be no consequences meted out on people who come forward.

It would probably go a long way to include the fact that sexual harassment under Kenyan law is prohibited under the Sexual Offences Act of 2006 which states that any person in a position of authority, or holding a public office, who persistently makes any sexual advances or requests which he or she knows, or has reasonable grounds to know, are unwelcome, is guilty of the offence of sexual harassment and is liable to imprisonment of at least three years or to a fine of at least 100,000 shillings or to both.

 

  1. TRAINING

The company must make sure that all employees undergo anti-harassment training workshops with a particular emphasis on upper-level management. This could be done twice a year to ensure that no one has any excuse to infringe on another person’s personal space only to claim ignorance as a defence. Human resources could also benefit from such workshops in order to learn how to handle such situations without causing further harm.

  1. CONSENSUAL AGREEMENTS

Office romances are nearly unavoidable, they almost always spring up at one point or the other. Things could, however, become murky once the love has gone sour and this is where consensual agreements come in. If colleagues decide to couple up, they should sign an agreement proving that the arrangement is completely consensual. Aside from limiting their romance to unofficial hours, they must commit to the agreement that their engagement will not spill over into their productivity. That in their official capacities they will proceed with the utmost professionalism.

Aside from those three main steps, an employer must remain alert and monitor office relations to ensure none of his staff is at a disadvantage. All reports must be taken seriously and dealt with promptly. It will be to his benefit as comfortable working conditions are necessary for keeping morale up, increasing productivity, retaining talent and maintaining brand image. It goes with saying that keeping away from lawsuits is a great way to keep operation costs down.

Companies should make sure they are protecting employees.  Employees should also know their rights and be proactive – How To Deal With Sexual Harassment In The Workplace.

Featured image via www.quickanddirtytips.com.

 

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