Employees have the right to file a lawsuit for damages when they are subjected to sexual harassment. Even though they have legal recourse after-the-fact, it is safe to say that most employees would rather feel safe in their own workplace. Policies and procedures that specifically address the issue of sexual harassment are the first step in accomplishing this goal.
What makes a good anti-harassment policy and procedure? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment, but it does not enumerate specific guidelines for drafting the policy. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides some general guidance.
A good policy makes it clear to all employees that harassment in unacceptable. It should also make it clear to all employees that any form of retaliation for reporting potential harassment is unacceptable, including co-workers who participate in an investigation.
Having a policy does not do you any good if employers don’t enforce it. A good procedure for reporting potential or actual harassment is the second step. This process should encourage reporting, and designate at least two people with whom you can file or discuss your complaint. Your supervisor should not be one of these people, because he or she is often the harasser.
Last, your employer must take action. The employer needs to initiate an investigation promptly after you make a report. It cannot be a cursory investigation and the investigator needs to be impartial to the outcome. When your employer determines that you have suffered harassment, the employer needs to correct the problem, which could include:
- Proportional disciplinary action for the supervisor
- Additional paid leave compensating for time you took off due to the harassment
- Separating you and the supervisor in such a way that you are not burdened
- Keeping a record of the harassment
Remember, these are only general guidelines provided by the EEOC. This is not legal advice on which you should rely. If you believe that you have suffered sexual harassment or retaliation, you should consult with an attorney.