Addressing the important matter of sexual harassment in their organization should be an absolute priority in the training and policy directions managers and leaders take. The stakes for employers who do not address these issues are quite high and can lead to incredibly costly lawsuits and other inter-office and public image problems. Lightle and Doucet (2006) note that sexual harassment is not only an expensive problem for employers, it also leads to “low morale and consequently decreases productivity. Angry, fearful, humiliated people are incapable of performing well and if this is not addressed, it may result in expensive lawsuits, terrible publicity and destruction of an organizational image that took years to build” (p. 36). There are many different types of sexual harassment at the workplace and with those variations there are also several gray areas as far as the law goes. It takes sound policy and understanding of the issue to anticipate potential problems.

Highly publicized lawsuits and more publicly-stated stances on sexual harassment have caused a wide shift in many organizations and employers as increasing numbers of them are instituting sexual harassment policies and procedures as evidenced in the statistics above that suggest that will over 70 percent have definite formal policies in place. According to Boland (2005), “By the end of the 1980s, more than 90% of companies had been sued for sexual harassment and during a two-year period in the mid-1990s, sexual harassment cost the federal government (and taxpayers) more than $300 million. The Department of Labor estimates that private businesses lose around $1 billion annually due to sexual harassment” (p.61). Statements such as these, as well as the negative publicity associated with any tolerance of sexual harassment is a motivating factor, although there are still some who have not fomulated specific formal organizational policies or worse yet, who read them but not actually adhere to them. It is the best interest of a company and its employees to not only have, but enforce their sexual harassment policies.

A broad anti-harassment/positive environment policy that includes a statement that specifically addresses sexual harassment; a separate sexual harassment policy that covers all organizational members, and finally, two sets of separate sexual harassment policies—one that addresses non-management employees and one that addresses management” (Lightle and Doucet 2006). Communicating these policies can be another challenge as simply having the policies suggested above is not enough—employees and managers at all levels need to understand what the policies mean and what their implications are. Instead of just having these policies as something employees and management signs off on without every truly considering, there are other ways suggested to spread the word, including, as Lightle and Doucet (2006) note  “permanent posting on bulletin boards, memos, articles in the organization’s internal publications, meetings, training sessions” (33). Furthermore, these should not simply be one-time preventative measures, they should be regular parts of any company’s work environment and corporate culture and should serve as reminders to policies that many employees and managers should already have, at all times, in the back of their minds.

Aside from the more general recommendations above about having management tasked enforcing and adhering to formal anti-sexual harassment policies and courses of action, what remains as another important to address is the matter of what the best practice would be for an organization to prevent this negative behavior and its associated expensive and detrimental effects. To that end, the following are suggested based on this overview of the important elements of this offense, with the most critical emphasis being to establish procedures that are actually followed and that are suited to the receipt of complaints.

Every organization should have a senior official, preferably someone with management experience, to serve as the “czar” of these issues. Ideally, this person in a management position would undergo extensive external training (perhaps at a seminar paid for by the organization) so that he or she would be the company “expert” on these issues from a legal, personal, and company-culture perspective. This person would be trusted with handling sensitive and confidential information, of course, thus the decision would have to be handled by committee or other vote and regularly come under scrutiny. This person would aid in training for all levels, from managers to employees and would make it clear that there is an important component of confidentiality when reporting and following investigative or other procedures. There should also be an investigation process in place that potential reporters of harassment understood and most importantly, felt safe using and being part of, which again, boils down to the issue of confidentiality. With this in mind, it would also be important to provide alternate modes of reporting since each case of alleged sexual harassment is distinct in terms of the dominant concerns. Having this structure of hierarchy in place is an important first step in legitimizing a policy of anti-harassment in an organization and furthermore, allows for a greater sense of accountability in the event of a complaint. To complete this process of policy implementation and action, the last thing left is training and constant reminding through the techniques discussed previously.

With all of the above concepts in mind about sexual harassment policy and management, it should be clear that there are a multitude of actions, verbal or physical, that constitutes harassment and consequently can lead to a problematic work environment. If an employee feels he or she has been a victim of sexual harassment, the following guidelines serve as the proper course of action for reporting. 1) It is important to make certain that those harassing are told that the behavior is not acceptable and offensive; this statement of “no, this is unwanted behavior” to the offender is the most important first step in any case. 2) If this behavior continues, the victim should try to find as many witnesses to the harassment as possible. 3) In conjunction with step 2, the victim should file a report immediately with the person in charge of these issues of, if no one has been specifically delegated to this task, follow the directions in the company’s policy handbook for reporting this kind of repeated, harassing behavior. From this point, it is up to the organization to properly handle the situation using the person mentioned above as the mediator.

In conclusion, sexual harassment is a serious offense in a workplace as it causes a hostile and unpleasant working environment, which has large implications on productivity, employee satisfaction, rates of turnover and more importantly, legal and ethical issues that can become very costly to an organization, both in terms of legal costs and public image. Employers and management must be vigilant and look beyond the obvious when crafting anti-sexual harassment policy and more general harassment policies. Due to a prevalence in highly publicized (not to mention incredibly expensive) lawsuits against high-profile organizations and a greater effort by interest and civil rights groups, more companies are making sexual harassment policy implementation a priority and this should help raise awareness of these issues until they are eradicated.

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