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Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace as a Small Business Owner

As a business owner you are probably vulnerable to threat of sexual harassment in the workplace. The MeToo Movement is currently impacting all businesses, regardless the size. In fact, if you are a small business, you are probably handling the sexual harassment claims in place of a human resources professional. When it’s the CEO handling the claims, many incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace may go unreported due to employees being fearful of retaliation and other negative consequences.

Unreported sexual harassment in the workplace creates tension and reduces productivity. However taking steps to fire or suspend an employee for workplace sexual harassment can damage your reputation and hinder your ability of hiring talent. What actions should a business owner take to protect themselves and their business against claims of sexual harassment in the workplace? One thing is certain: You need to take action immediately.

How to Handle Workplace Sexual Harassment

As a business owner and a responsible employer, it is important to ensure that your employees feel safe and supported at work. Your role is to have a policy in place and communicate to your employees what defines sexual harassment in your workplace. You must define what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.  For example, if you don’t want your employees to date each other, then you must put this in your policy. Part of the reason that an office romance can lead to workplace controversy – and even legal issues – is that when both parties aren’t on board with the interaction, it can lead to a sexual harassment claim.

Develop a policy and a process for reporting workplace sexual harassment incidents

Encourage your employees to report concerns, and make sure they understand how to report incidents – and to whom. Help building healthy employee-employer relationships.

Make sure your policy specifies an alternate person to be designated to receive a complaint or be notified of an incident if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser. You want to make sure your employees trust you and believe in your ability to carry out an unbiased evaluation of any workplace harassment claims.

There is increased awareness of workplace sexual harassment and increased claims

While sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new issue, the recent media deluge of reports has heightened awareness. As a highly reported contemporary issue, business owners must now take the lead within their organizations. Janet Zarestky, in a recent article wrote, “We, as people, always look for whom to blame. But I assert it is not the fault of men nor women. It’s part of the culture that we live and work in, and it’s time for a change”. The MeToo Movement has empowered those who were not comfortable in coming forward to bring claims upon their attackers. The cost of inaction for small businesses are high so business owners must be open to exploring how sexual harassment may be an issue at their company, and then taking action.

Sexual harassment training for employees

Make sure you train your employees on sexual harassment in the workplace. Communicate clearly your policy, and have an investigation process in place. Be the champion of fostering a safe and supporting environment for your employees. Most importantly, think about how you can change your own comments and behaviour to demonstrate that you are sensitive to the issue. The result is that everyone will see you as proactive and committed to tackling sexual harassment in the workplace.

So where do you start in developing a policy? Our tips sheet covers the top sexual harassment behaviours to address in your policy, Click here to get your copy: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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