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Shotwell the dog, Embroker mascot Embroker Team February 18, 2022 8 min read

How to Create a Sexual Harassment Policy for Your Business

Two people in a workplace pondering how to create a sample sexual harassment policy

Creating a sexual harassment policy might not be your top priority when you are just starting your business. You have other things to worry about, and, honestly, you’re probably thinking, “this won’t happen to me.” 

But the unfortunate reality is that, when it comes to experiencing sexual harassment, even the most healthy, profitable, and seemingly well-run companies in the world have, are, or will.

Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, a reality for many people, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or age. A survey from Stop Street Harassment in 2018 revealed that 38% of women suffered some sort of sexual harassment in the workplace.

One in four LGBTQ2+ employees reported sexual harassment in the workplace because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, indicates the Williams Institute in their 2021 report. According to other outlets, those numbers are significantly higher, but fear of repercussions and retaliation have greatly reduced the number of reported cases.

The good news is that, according to 2020 research, 98% of American companies have a sexual harassment policy for their business, but only 51% changed their policy accordingly in response to the influence of the #metoo movement.

Employers need to re-examine their policies frequently and keep them up-to-date. Constant work to raise awareness and eliminate discrimination and harassment from a place of work has become a reality for many companies.

If you need help revising your sexual harassment policy, we can assist you with that.

What Is Considered Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Their Policy Guidance also distinguishes between two types of sexual harassment: “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment.”

Quid pro quo sexual harassment happens when a person of authority, such as an employer, a manager, or a supervisor, makes a demand (or implied demand) for sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a certain benefit. That benefit could be a promotion or a raise. They could also demand favors of sexual nature under the threat of firing or demoting an employee.

Hostile work environment harassment arises when sexual speech or conduct creates an intimidating atmosphere that can affect employees’ well-being and work performance. This type of harassment can be a bit more challenging to spot, especially since anybody can initiate it, and it can last an extended period of time.

These sexual advances are sometimes subtle, and the victim can even fail to notice them. Sometimes they happen weeks or months apart, so people fail to see the pattern. When things like this are not appropriately addressed, they can escalate into repeated sexual comments or jokes, even inappropriate touching in the workplace, leading to a demeaning work environment.

If you have any doubts, here’s the list that sums up what classifies as sexual harassment in a place of work:

  • Requesting sexual favors from your employees in exchange for a benefit
  • Making unwelcome sexual advances
  • Any type of verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature
  • Blackmailing an employee either explicitly or implicitly by making sexual favors a condition of their employment
  • Sexual conduct that affects an individual’s work performance
  • Continuous sexual demeanor that creates a hostile, intimidating work environment

Why Does Your Business Need a Sexual Harassment Policy

An inclusive and happy workplace is a place free of all kinds of discrimination. Your employees shouldn’t feel discriminated against based on their religion, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic.

Every business needs a sexual harassment policy, and there’s no question about it. But, creating a safe, comfortable work environment where every employee feels respected and valued should be one of the primary goals for every company’s executive, legal, and HR team. This fundamental aspect of work will foster a healthy relationship between staff and create confidence in workers to stand up if they experience or witness questionable activity.

People also need to know that they would be able to report sexual harassment without fearing potential repercussions. The existence of a standardized document that clearly outlines all the procedures when handling a harassment claim will bring certain tranquility and comfort to your entire staff.

A sexual harassment policy would also ensure a swift reaction from your team if someone filed a claim. When you create a safe environment for people to speak up, and you ensure that your team investigates the matter properly, that’s when you know you’re doing the right thing for your business and your employees.

You might think that sexual harassment ceased to exist with the increase in remote work, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Harassers don’t need physical contact to harm their victims. Making inappropriate gestures on video calls, writing comments, or jokes of sexual nature can cause an equal amount of discomfort as any physical advance.

The best way to let everyone know that you won’t tolerate abusive behavior in your company is to provide adequate training and design a comprehensive sexual harassment policy. Ensure that everybody is familiar with it and that they acknowledge and sign the document. It shows that you care for your employees by taking preventive measures and that you run a responsible business.

How to Create a Sexual Harassment Policy

First, note that federally-regulated companies must have an anti-harassment policy that includes sexual harassment. You should check the legal requirements for the state where your business operates and ensure you are compliant. Consult your legal team to ensure you do everything right when creating the document.

Even if your state laws don’t mandate having a sexual harassment policy, you might still consider designing one to protect your employees and your business.

Your policy should clearly state that you have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace. It should also outline what kind of training your employees receive as a harassment prevention method.

Formal language and big words can be confusing and create gray areas when issues of harassment are brought to light. So, you might want to keep the language as clear and straightforward as possible unless you cite laws and regulations. That’s the best way to avoid any misunderstandings and ensure everybody follows the rules the policy enforces.

Review your policy regularly with your legal and HR teams. This way, you’ll be sure that you respect all legal requirements and that your policy includes best practices that will protect your employees.

The Elements of a Sample Sexual Harassment Policy

If you don’t have official documentation in place, here’s our suggestion on what a sample sexual harassment policy could look like:

  • Policy brief and purpose: Briefly define the policy’s purpose and what employees can expect to find in it.
  • Definition of sexual harassment in the workplace: Use the official guidance from the EEOC to define what your company considers as sexual harassment. Feel free to broaden the list if your HR team deems it necessary. Notify your employees that the forbidden actions originating from an outside source (like a client, vendor, or business partner) also count as sexual harassment, and they should hesitate to report them.
  • Policy scope: Make it clear that the policy applies to every employee in the company, with no exceptions.
  • Company rules regarding sexual harassment: We can’t emphasize enough how vital it is to create an environment where discrimination and harassment are not welcome. Encourage your employees to report sexual harassment if they witness that kind of inappropriate behavior at work. Even if they are not the victims, they should still come forward and help create a healthy working environment for everyone.
  • Claims reporting process: Describe in detail what the claims reporting process looks like and what employees can expect. Always leave various options for making allegations or filing complaints:
    • Formal: A formal process would indicate names alongside the circumstances of the incident.
    • Informal: Victims may not feel comfortable enough to make a formal complaint. Leave some channels for your employees to make anonymous complaints or a channel where they can be sure their identity will remain a secret between them and an HR professional.
  • Investigation process: First, if the complainant approves, talk to the alleged offender. If all sides agree that the actions in question were not too severe, suggest mediation to resolve the issue. If mediation is not an option, this section of your policy should indicate all the steps your company would take when investigating a sexual harassment claim. It should also list all the teams and individuals involved in the process.
  • Employee rights (the accuser and the accused): Both sides should remain anonymous to everyone outside the investigating team and potential witnesses. You should state that clearly in this part of the policy, alongside the fact that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise. Consult your legal and HR teams to include all the rights involved parties have during and after the investigation process.
  • Disciplinary actions: Given that not all offenses are the same, this section will indicate disciplinary actions for various investigation outcomes. Whether it’s a formal warning and additional training, or measures so severe as suspension or dismissal, you should make it all clear in your documentation.
  • How to help the victims: List the steps your company will take to help the victims. For example, that could mean counseling, emotional support, time off, or anything else you think is appropriate.

Note that this is only a policy sample, and you can include additional fields in yours if necessary. Remember that this is an official company document and create it accordingly.

Insurance as a Safety Net

Sexual harassment cases affect not only the victim but each and every one of your staff. Even though your focus is on protecting your employees, you should also consider protecting yourself and your business.

If your employee thinks you haven’t done enough to protect them and create a safe working environment, they may decide to sue the company. In case of a lawsuit related to employment-related misconduct, an insurance policy that would best respond to the claim is employment practices liability insurance policy.

This policy excludes bodily injury, but it covers the claims of sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, or failure to promote, for example. It will also pay for the legal costs of defending the claim, as well as potential awarded damages.

Your employee can also accuse the management team of mishandling the investigation process and not devoting enough attention to the case. The executives would then be personally liable for their lack of action, and the insurance policy that would help with their legal defense and damages is the directors and officers (D&O) insurance policy.

If you don’t have these insurance policies in place, consider obtaining them bundled in our management liability package policy to avoid any gaps in coverage.

Should you need more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our experienced brokers. You can also get your quote online by signing up to our digital platform.

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