5 Steps to Prevent a #MeToo Problem in Your WorkPlace

Sexual Harassment Series Questions #5 & 6: How can we prevent it and how can we address it when it happens?

As the #MeToo movement continues to spread and more people give voice to their experiences with sexual harassment, everyone from movie executives to farm owners are asking: How can we prevent this from happening in the future?

With the advent of new human resource startups from Silicon Valley and online workplace training courses, the answer might seem as easy as adding more top-down oversight and training programs.

While training in particular is vital, it is far from a silver bullet. At its best, training teaches basic level information on what sexual harassment is and what it looks like. At its worst, it can act as a simple “checking of the box” in order to comply with requirements from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Did You Know?

Sexual harassment training really took off following two 1998 Supreme Court cases that determined one way to limit liability in a sexual harassment case was for companies to show that they had trained employees on their anti-harassment policies. But training is not enough to protect a company from liability. See our earlier post that addresses whether companies may be liable for sexual harassment.

Yes, training is essential, but definitely not enough.

If preventing sexual harassment from happening in the first place is the ultimate goal, as the New York Times reports, “companies need to create a culture in which women are treated as equals and employees treat one another with respect.”

Below are several ways to do just that:

Train Seriously and Often

Education is the first step to understanding the problem--knowing what sexual harassment looks like and what acceptable behaviors are.

According to researchers, the most effective training is at least four hours, in person, interactive and tailored for the particular workplace. And it is best if done by the employees’ supervisor or an external expert (rather than an HR person with no direct oversight).

Many training resources can be found online and are often available from grower associations and local farmworker service organizations.

For instance, the Washington Growers League, has trained around 4,000 supervisors, management and farmworkers in the Yakima Valley in the last decade. They offer a two hour training on “How to Identify and Prevent Sexual Harassment.” And NCEC/Radio KDNA created a five minute Radio-Novela in Spanish on the topic.

Western Growers University offers in-person two hour AB-1825 and AB-2053 compliant Harassment, Discrimination and Abusive Conduct Prevention Training workshops in both English and Spanish, that explore the consequences of harassment on the individual and the organization. For those able to attend in Santa Maria, CA; Tulare, CA and Bakersfield, CA, these courses teach the definitions of harassment and discrimination under the law, the difference between illegal harassment and abusive conduct, the two types of harassment that exist, the importance of preventing and addressing harassment in the workplace and employer and management responsibilities for handling complaints.

Continual Communication is Key

In addition to training seriously and often, continual communication of the importance of the topic, any available resources, and expected behavior according to company policies can help prevent issues from arising.

A few opportunities to provide such helpful reminders about your company’s policies and complaint processes include new employee onboarding meetings, written notices in paycheck stubs, and regular text messages using communications tools like Ganaz.

Empower the Bystander

One of the problems with traditional training is that while it can do an effective job of telling people what not to do, it often fails to educate people on what they should do and what appropriate behaviors look like. One positive behavior worth encouraging is having bystanders speak up.

By empowering the bystander, everyone in the workplace is empowered to stop harassment.

A few effective and well researched actions for bystanders to employ to stop harmful behavior in the moment include disrupting the situation (e.g. asking the victim to come over and help with something) and removing them from the situation.

Bystanders can talk to the harasser after the incident, by asking questions but not making accusations, such as “Were you aware of how you came off in that conversation?” They can also talk to the targets of the harassment, asking if they’re OK or offering to accompany them to the HR department.

Promotion of More Women

Research has continually shown that companies with more women in management have less sexual harassment. Studies suggest that this solution addresses two main factors that correlate with higher levels of harassment.

Harassment tends to be more prevalent in workplaces where men dominate in management and women have little power. This has been shown to be true in the entertainment industry as of late, but also across many other industries, whether it be with women in tech, waitresses, hotel maids or female farm workers.

Also, there tends to be more harassment when women hold a minority of the jobs deemed “essential” or “core” within an organization. In industries and workplaces where women are well represented in the core jobs, harassment is significantly less likely to occur.

So hiring and promoting more women to management and core jobs can be a significant game changer in preventing sexual harassment.

Encourage Reporting and Enforce Consequences

One final recommendation is to encourage reporting and enforce consequences when issues are brought forward.

There is inherently a lot of fear associated with speaking up and reporting issues of sexual harassment. If an employee works up the courage to report an incident, and there are no consequences for the harasser and/or no change in behavior, it is likely that that employee (and perhaps others) will leave or refrain from reporting future incidents. In addition, those harassers might feel emboldened.

Therefore, experts recommended that several people, especially female leaders, within an organization are responsible for and encouraged to receive reports, increasing the odds that victims and/or bystanders feel comfortable coming forward and talking to someone about what they experienced.

Another option has been suggested by Ian Ayres, a Yale University professor of law and management, who writes about the use of information escrows for harassment reporting where victims turn in a time-stamped complaint against an abuser, and can request that it is reported only if another employee files a complaint against the same person.

So how should sexual harrassment be addressed when it happens?

This is where a thoughtful, written policy comes in handy. This policy should detail the steps to be taken and the consequences for given actions so companies have a plan to follow when they receive a report.

But we have seen hundreds of wonderful policies in color-coded binders that did nothing to change the reality on the ground. We bet you’ve seen them, too. A commitment from company leadership to follow through with the policy is what matters. 

Here are some recommended action steps paraphrased from BizFilings:

  • Quickly and thoroughly investigate any claims that might occur.

  • Don't take any action that can be seen as harming the person making the complaint. For example, don't transfer the complaining party to a worse location in order to separate the parties.

  • Do whatever is necessary to stop the harassment immediately.

  • Restore any job benefits that were lost due to the harassment.

  • Discipline the person who committed the harassment. If disciplinary action of the harasser is not considered appropriate, document the reasons why.

Although several different recommendations for how to prevent sexual harassment and what to do when it occurs are listed above, there are surely many others.

Not sure where to begin?

Try taking a couple small steps today:

  1. Sign up for a training course (like this one for example)

  2. Fire up a communications tool (via foreman phone trees or better yet, directly to employee’s phones or emails) and try a few of the messages we recommend:

"Check out this Radio Novela when you have a few minutes today!"

"If you see something, say something. Please speak up if you see a coworker or supervisor not living up to our values of respect and equality. If you can't talk to your supervisor, contact Lorena in HR at 555-555-5555."

Tell us what’s worked on your farm or get a free demo of the Ganaz communication tool by emailing Ganaz’s co-founder, Hannah Freeman, at hannah@ganaz.com.