Sexual harassment is big in the news, and has led to the end of long careers in Hollywood, Washington and large businesses around the nation. While your business may not be a multi-billion-dollar juggernaut where a sexual harassment claim would make national headlines, that doesn’t mean you can simply ignore sexual harassment.
Not only does creating a sexual harassment protect your employees and set a clear line in the sand for your company culture’s sake, it also protects your business from potential lawsuits that can be costly, time-consuming, hurt recruiting efforts and leave you vulnerable to personal liability depending on how your company is structured and what kinds of business insurance you have. Especially when small businesses are first getting started and profit margins are slim, the cost of a lawsuit could not only derail goals to grow the business, it could put you into business debt or even sink the company. Ensure your business has a clear sexual harassment policy in place to protect everyone at your workplace with these tips.
Understand sexual harassment policies.
Attitudes towards sexual harassment, gender equality and what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace have changed over time. This generational issue is glaringly obvious when discussing recent harassment claims with Baby Boomers and Millennials at the same time. Just think of Don Draper and the behavior that was acceptable in the “Mad Men” era to get a better understanding of how sexual harassment attitude and acceptance has changed over time.
Harvey Weinstein’s accusers opened up a floodgate of workplace sexual harassment policy updates that were long overdue. Before you start working on your small business sexual harassment policy, understand what these policies do and how they work. A sexual harassment policy should clearly explain what behavior is considered sexual harassment, the repercussions for engaging in unacceptable behavior, and how you will train employees to avoid sexual harassment. The policy should also include information on how employees can report sexual harassment and what will happen if sexual harassment is reported.
Examine your workplace’s unique scenarios.
While most offices should be able to easily and clearly identify and explain sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, that is not always the case in every business. And even within other business categories, it may not always be so cut and dry.
For example, at a restaurant it is inappropriate for any managers, coworkers, or guests to comment on female staffer’s appearance beyond remarking on following uniform guidelines and wearing professional attire. But at restaurants like Hooters, Twin Peaks and The Tilted Kilt, the uniform requires sexually provocative attire. In those cases, the companies must create custom tailored policies that protect their wait staff while maintaining the company’s culture and brand.
While it may be tempting to follow an “I know it when I see it” definition of sexual harassment, it is vital to write extremely clear guidelines to protect your staff from unwanted sexual advances and your business from sexual harassment lawsuits.
Find and review a policy template.
When writing your policy, you don’t have to start from scratch. For many businesses, a pre-written template will cover everything you need. If not, it may get you well on the way to a custom policy for your business.
Templates are great for any legal need, as most businesses have similar requirements and can get something together much faster and at a bargain price. But don’t just take a template and assume everything is perfect. It will still likely require some level of customization to fit your business.
Customize to your business needs.
Depending on your background, you may be able to start the customization process on your own. Read the template, update the glaringly obvious fixes you need, and then read through again with a fine-tooth comb looking for areas where the template does not match your business or leaves something out.
While most contracts are written by lawyers, there is no rule saying you can’t write in sections for your small business sexual harassment policy yourself. Do research on what similar businesses include in their workplace harassment policies and use them as a guide while tweaking the template to best match your business needs.
Hire a lawyer for legal review.
In the last section, you learned that you can write your own sections in your sexual harassment policy. But you can’t just assume everything you wrote is up to snuff with the law. Now it’s time to bite the bullet and hire a lawyer.
A legal review will ensure you are doing all of the right things to protect your employees, yourself and your business from sexual harassment and sexual harassment claims. Nothing is every 100% effective when it comes to sexual harassment prevention, but doing your due diligence does help you protect your team and your company and limits liability in the event of a claim.
Do not ignore sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is no longer something that can sit at the back of your mind when running a business. Whether your company employs two workers or two hundred, it is time to put a strong sexual harassment policy in place and update older documents.
If you take the steps to protect yourself today, you will have little to worry about in the future. But if you ignore sexual harassment, you are sitting on a ticking time bomb. You never know when a claim may arise that could take down your business. Do the smart thing and put a policy in place as soon as possible.
This article was originally written on December 21, 2017.