How can business owners prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment and result in employment litigation. Employers should take steps to prevent sexual harassment.

Some people deny it exists. Others think the problem is not as bad as reported. Even more do not fully understand the scope or definition of the issue. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue affecting people in New York and elsewhere, and it may be more common than previously thought.

It is imperative for business owners to understand sexual harassment on the job, as well as to take the steps to prevent it. Doing so may not only protect a business's legal interests, but also protect employees and create a positive, productive workplace environment.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment encompasses a broad range of behaviors and can be difficult to recognize, since many instances of sexual harassment begin subtly and gradually increase in severity. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment involves unwanted behavior of a sexual nature that contributes to a workplace environment that feels unsafe or hostile. Sexual harassment can include verbal or physical advances, lewd jokes, sexually explicit material, physical assault and stalking during or after work hours.

Psychologists claim that sexual harassment is about manipulation, power and aggression, rather than simply being about sex or misguided romantic interest. In a survey by Stop Street Harassment, 81% of women and 43% of men who responded said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime.

How can employers address sexual harassment?

It is important for employers to teach their staff about sexual harassment and to enact anti-harassment policies. They may address this issue in the following ways:

· Train employees on what constitutes as sexual harassment.

· Inform employees that they have a strict policy forbidding sexual harassment.

· Monitor the workplace for signs of sexual harassment or employees who seem uncomfortable or unhappy.

· Take complaints of harassment seriously and investigate all claims.

· Reassure employees that they will not be disciplined for reporting sexual harassment.

Business owners and employees should understand that sexual harassment is not limited to contact between staff members. The harassment can come from supervisors, fellow employees, subcontractors, customers and anyone who comes into contact with employees.

When employers are aware of the issue and engaged in the well-being of their staff, they may increase job morale among their employees, contribute to a safe work environment and avoid the possibility of legal action being taken against their company. It may be wise to speak with an experienced New York business attorney about developing strategies to prevent and address sexual harassment on the job.