Last Updated on October 23, 2023 by Dave Schoenbeck
Handling HR complaints as a business too small to hire an HR person can be challenging, especially regarding sexual harassment allegations. These are serious complaints that can get you into legal trouble if mishandled. If you don’t have an HR department, here’s what you need to know about dealing with sexual harassment in your small business.
Responding to Sexual Harassment in Your Small Business
First, you must know what sexual harassment in your small business looks like. It’s not just a matter of physical touch—harassment can include gossip, crude jokes, or other non-physical behaviors that create a hostile work environment and physical assault.
If an employee complains about sexual harassment, you must take it seriously and take them at their word. It’s not your place to question whether an incident happened or explain another employee’s behavior. Immediately make a formal record of the complaint.
I think you will likely need to investigate the matter. I highly recommend you have a lawyer to help with this step. You can get in trouble if you violate any ethics or privacy laws. The investigation must be discreet. Talk to all employees involved to hear their side of the story. Keep a record of these conversations.
The situation becomes even more complicated if the complaint is made against you. In this case, please consult a lawyer as soon as possible. You’ll need an outside party to investigate apparent reasons. Avoid approaching the employee yourself; your behavior may be perceived as threatening.
Ways to Prevent Sexual Harassment in Your Small Business
The most important way to prevent sexual harassment in your small business is to develop a robust sexual harassment policy as soon as possible. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers tips for a solid approach.
Emphasize that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment and encourage employees to come forward if they feel threatened. Create a safe environment and a confidential system for employees to report sexual harassment.
Company culture is also a solid deterrent to sexual harassment. The better you know your employees and the better you all work together, the easier it is to notice potential warning signs that someone might one day cross a line.
Could you make it known that your company does not tolerate off-color jokes or comments, even when two employees know each other very well? Creating a zero-tolerance culture from the start means there will be no gray area for what’s allowed down the line. It’s your job to make acceptable behavior known and to enforce that in your culture.
Many companies offer sexual harassment training for small businesses. Have your employees undergo training like this once a year to reinforce this learning and make clear your commitment to employee safety.
Laws regarding sexual harassment in your small business vary from state to state, so while this is good general advice, consult your state’s policies to know exactly how to proceed.
If you want to strengthen your workplace harassment policy, fill out my contact form, and we’ll discuss what changes you can make.
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