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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: What Can Employers Do?

5 Critical Steps to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

With sexual harassment in the workplace being one of the leading news stories this year, many employers are asking:

What can I do to protect my employees and minimize the risk of harassment at my organization?

Although it seems that sexual harassment is hitting epidemic levels, there are several steps employers can take to be proactive and safeguard against harassment and discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency which oversees discrimination law, published the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace outlining 5 core principles that have been proven to be effective in preventing and addressing harassment:

  1. Committed and Engaged Leadership
  2. Consistent and Demonstrated Accountability
  3. Strong and Comprehensive Harassment Policies
  4. Trusted and Accessible Complaint Procedures
  5. Regular, Interactive Training Tailored to the Audience and the Organization

Sexual Harassment Policy

The first step to eliminating sexual harassment is to have a policy which states your company’s stance and adheres to state and federal laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees against discrimination, including sexual harassment, and applies to companies with 15 or more employees. However, it is recommended that every company, no matter the size, has a sexual harassment policy. The EEOC suggests sexual harassment policies include the following:

  • A definition of sexual harassment and prohibited behavior;
  • A statement protecting employees who raise harassment concerns from retaliation;
  • Information about the complaint process and details about who employees can contact both within the organization, as well as the state and national agencies to file a complaint;
  • In most cases, employees have 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC. These time frames may be extended based on state laws.
  • A statement that the investigation process will be prompt, thorough and impartial;
  • Assurance that the employer will take appropriate action upon conclusion of the investigation that is commensurate with the findings.

Some states require additional information also be included in the policy. Employees should be given a copy of the policy upon hire and be required to sign an acknowledgment of receipt of the policy. While the policy is often stated in the company’s employee handbook, it is recommended that the policy is distributed annually as a standalone document with a separate acknowledgment of receipt.

Harassment Training

In addition to having a sexual harassment policy, employees should be trained on that policy. In some states, such as California, Maine and Connecticut, and in many federal agencies, training is mandated. It is recommended that all employees be trained upon hire and annually going forward. Training should cover the key components of the policy as outlined above by the EEOC as well as any additional state-mandated training.

Managers should be equipped with additional training on handling complaints, escalating complaints to the appropriate person within the organization, and conducting investigations.

Due to the sensitivity of training, it’s recommended that training not be done with larger groups and be done face-to-face, rather than through videos or webinars where employees could easily tune out what is being said. Employees should sign an attendance sheet maintained by the company.


While a sexual harassment policy and training will set the tone for the organization, building a culture that is free from sexual harassment and discrimination comes from the top. The leadership team should set an example for appropriate behavior in the workplace, including attending training alongside their employees. Should a claim of harassment be brought forward, leadership should act appropriately on the claim and not ignore the situation. Effective communication is essential to building a respectful work environment.

For more information about sexual harassment policies, training and claims, contact your OneDigital representative today. To review and download additional materials and documents to reference around these policies and employment laws, visit the OneDigital Benefits Resource Center.