From Ailes to Weinstein, across the military, and in far too many organizations, sexual harassment is a significant problem. And no, your small business is not exempt!

Such harassment is sadly, maddeningly common. You have seen the recent news, the social media storm over #MeToo. So first some basic facts:

  • Sexual harassment is not about sex, it is about power.
  • Whether it is verbal or physical, it is abuse and a form of violence.
  • Women are the most common targets, but men are also sexually harassed.

Such harassment represents a real threat to your organization now and in the future. It directly impacts productivity and morale. It erodes trust. It increases turnover. And it can result in both legal and reputation risks.

What Do You Do?

The first step is to create a workplace culture that encourages trust and respect.

This will support many good things beyond dealing with harassment issues. And it does make identifying and dealing with harassment easier. You need policies, practices, and leadership to create trust and respect within the work place. A good basic policy of how you expect everyone to respect and work with each other, your clients or customers, vendors, and others you work with is a good start. Be clear about your intent. State how the policy works in everyday activities.

The harder step is to live up to what you expect others to do. Plus you must communicate your policy and intent regularly. And you must take action when anyone, in any role, does not fulfill the policy and your expectations.

Second, you must be very clear that you will not tolerate any harassment or discriminatory behavior.

When you reach 15 employees, you have legal requirements related to equal opportunity which cover all forms of discrimination, including harassment. But whatever your size, do you really want to allow such behavior?  Tell your employees you will not accept it. Write a short policy and communicate it.  Discipline or terminate the employment of those who violate your policy.

Third, if you have any suspicion of harassment issues, investigate.

Perhaps it is a long-time employee who makes off-color jokes.  Or someone who comments on women’s appearance. Maybe there is someone who often touches other people. Worse yet, it could be a customer. I have dealt with all of these and far worse.

If you have any concerns, pay attention to them.  So often, the investigation or a class on harassment turns up a pattern that others have noticed but no-one dealt with.  You can get assistance from lawyers and consultants who specialize in such investigations. If a senior person is accused or you are a target – use your employment lawyer so you have legal protection. False claims are actually rare, and often tied to other problems you are having with the employee, but you cannot ignore any claim or concern.

An interesting article and links which may help you and your staff learn more actions – What Men Can Do

That this violence keeps happening so commonly tells us all how tough this fight is. Your actions can create a safer, more civil workplace for everyone. What actions will you take? When?