The new workplace: one with less strict with regards to everything. Casual dress, flexible schedules, no employee handbook or policies, a social construct and a non-traditional corporate culture. These smaller firms may be the way of the future. But do these new businesses with their free-for-all mentality; blur the lines of what constitutes sexual harassment? Casual workplaces are intended to allow workers to think liberally and develop camaraderie with coworkers. But oftentimes these personal and work life relationships may become intertwined and cause a challenge for the employer. Late night texts and emails, offhand jokes made to a coworker, but overheard by another, and other potentially harassing behaviors may make it difficult for employees and alike to know when they need to protect themselves.
Sexual harassment has always been a complicated thing to recognize, but technology has played a role as of late. According to the Society for Human Resources Management (www.shrm.org), one in three women ages 18-34 said they’d been sexually harassed at work, and one-fourth of those cited offensive texts or emails. Part of the problem is that what offends one person may not offend another, which further proves why harassment is so difficult to define. A person who has experienced sexually explicit or sexist remarks may not feel that they have been harassed – and in turn, not report it. In fact, according to qz.com, 71% of women who have been sexually harassed don’t report it. Knowing when to say something is hard. But it is important to remember that something small may turn into a bigger problem. It could be a behavior that simply made the employee uncomfortable, or it could be illegal, whichever is the case, the employee has a right to speak up. The natural first step would be to take the issue to a management team member, or human resources professional to help diffuse the situation. It is crucial that employees know who is available to them, no matter how flexible or modern the workplace is at the time.
The stigma that a sexual harassment claim may have on a company is still very real. While sexual harassment training is not required under federal law, there are many states that have enacted legislation requiring that company’s conduct sexual harassment training and have a company policy. It is wise for all companies, no matter how big or small, to have an employee handbook that contains a sexual harassment policy, as well as training put in place for all employees, at least every other year, if not one time per year. Do you know what your state’s requirements are with regards to having a policy and training?
For additional information on this topic, please contact New Focus HR at www.newfocushr.com.
Written by: Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP