Sexual Harassment, Harassment, Lawsuits, EEOC

No business is immune from the risk of costly sexual harassment claims.  However, small businesses are particularly more vulnerable because in most cases, a small business will lack the policies and procedures to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.  Without knowledgeable HR support, it can be difficult to establish effective harassment preventative measures or know how to appropriately address complaints in order to protect your business (as much as is possible) from litigation risks.  So what can you do to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace?  Here are 4 essential steps.

1. Have a Written Sexual Harassment Policy – The first step in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is to have a policy that: clearly articulates the Company’s standard of what behaviors are appropriate in the workplace; explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace; explains consequences for violations of that standard; and contains a clear procedure in which employees are able to report any perceived violations to the policy. Once you’ve developed your policy be sure to distribute to your employees and have written acknowledgement of having received it so that you can hold any violators accountable.

2. Train Your Managers & Employees – Having a written policy alone isn’t enough.  While some forms of harassment are clear-cut, however, other examples of what truly rises to the level of harassment may not be so clear to everyone.  With that said, it’s important for both managers and employees to be educated on how to recognize, prevent and report harassment.  In fact, in States like California, Connecticut, Illinois and New York, providing sexual harassment training is mandatory for employer.  Whether required or not, sexual harassment raining demonstrates that you business is committed to providing a harassment free workplace and is one of the strongest preventative measures you can take as an employer. 

3. Document & Investigate All Complaints – One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when it comes to dealing with potential harassment is ignoring it.  If an employee makes a complaint, no matter the employee or the complaint, it is essential to document the complaint and conduct an investigation.  The investigation can be as simple as talking one-on-one to the parties involved and any apparent witnesses to determine facts. You are better off documenting and investigating even the most minor incidents rather than ignoring them or brushing them off.  By adhering to a standard of documenting the facts of all complaints, even those that are determined to be invalid, you can protect your employees and your business.

4. Take Appropriate Action – Last, but certainly not least, is to take the appropriate steps at the conclusion of the investigation based on the end-result.  If the investigation reveals that harassment has in fact occurred, then it’s you’re responsibility to discipline the harasser (which may include termination) and/or require them to participate in training, depending on the severity of the facts and circumstances.

Many small business owners think sexual harassment policies are unnecessary given the size of their business. In Fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 67% of small businesses do not have sexual harassment policies or training in place.   Businesses of every size and every industry should take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and protect their business and their employees.  The HR Hotline® team can help your business put the necessary safeguards in place.  Visit or email us at to learn more.