Money Matters - Simplified

Want Trouble? Ignore Sexual Harassment Policy

Sexual harassment is a hot button issue currently with high-profile case of the head of IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, allegedly sexually assaulting a maid. Here is how small businesses can deal with the issue when it confronts them.
Sexual harassment at workplace brings in insidious consequences.

Surveys indicate that 50 percent women and 20 percent men feel that they have been sexually harassed in the workplace. Both federal laws and many state laws treat sexual harassment as a form of sexual discrimination. In such a workplace set-up, small businesses would do well to have a sexual harassment policy. Without such a policy, businesses get exposed to unfortunate consequences when sexual harassment happens at the workplace. Some of the consequences include litigation, soiled reputation, and even the business going bust.

Hot Issue
Sexual harassment has become, yet again, the hot issue with a high-profile case. The head of International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested on May 15 on charges of criminal sex act, attempted rape, and unlawful imprisonment.

According to the Associated Press report, the head of IMF sexually assaulted the housekeeper who came to clean his $3000-a-night suite in a New York hotel. She eventually broke free off him, told hotel staff what had happened, and they called police. He made it to the airport but was taken into custody from first class on an Air France flight shortly before the flight’s scheduled departure.

Stuff happens whether you are high-brow, middle-brow, or low-brow. Or, even no-brow. Stuff tumbles out from swanky corridors of corporate power, congressional offices, and from coops of small businesses.

Frame a Policy
Businesses, for a start, have to have zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment in all its forms. Sexual harassment could be psychological, verbal, and physical, etc. The policy should cover all its forms. As Kathie Lee Gifford, TV host, singer, songwriter, and actress, said, “sexual harassment is complex, subtle, and highly subjective.”

Being upfront with employees about the firm’s position on sexual harassment is a right step. In addition to that, a written, well-formulated sexual harassment policy protects your employees and your business. If you think your firm is so small that there is no chance of sexual harassment happening at your place, remember that libido doesn’t act according to the size of your firm. The major sting from sexual harassment comes from ensuing litigation once it happens. This should give you enough reason to establish a sexual harassment policy.

Basic Features of Policy
Although each company tries to deal with sexual harassment according to its own set of rules, there are some basic features to every successful and effective policy.

Zero-Tolerance Attitude
The most fundamental of sexual harassment features is zero-tolerance attitude towards it. You have to make it clear to everyone concerned that there will be no lenience about any violation of the rule. You move in to send off the fallen employee, however valuable he or she may be to the firm. Zero-tolerance policy means exactly what it indicates. It also indicates that any violations will be met with a swift response.

Writing in ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,’ Ellen J. Wagner, says, “In an increasingly litigious society and in an era of ever-increasing employee rights and employer responsibilities, sexual harassment allegations are particularly hazardous.”

Clear Action
You have to make it clear to everyone as to how to report an incident of sexual harassment, and what the response would be. Reporting rules should be conveyed to employees on a regular basis. The company’s response to such incidents has to be conveyed, too. It is better to be prepared with a strong policy rather than muddle your way through litigation after any such incident happens.

No Cover-Ups
The policy should make it clear that there will be no cover-ups under any circumstances. Cover-ups push the firm down the drain. Even when the one who indulged in sexual harassment is highly valuable to the company, the policy should make it clear that he or she will be referred to appropriate investigative agencies and action taken.

Robert T. Gray and Donald H. Weiss, writing in Nation’s Business, warn: “While that response can be prolonged and even difficult, the experts say that the depth of a company’s commitment to preventing such conduct can be determined by one step at the moment of the filing of a complaint. That step: Take it seriously."