5. Prevention of Sexual Harassment
The most effective weapon
against sexual harassment is prevention. Harassment does not disappear
on its own. In fact, it is more likely that when the problem is not
addressed, the harassment will worsen and become more difficult to remedy
as time goes on.
of preventing sexual harassment rests on the employer. In the United
States, Canada and in some European Union Member States, employers are
responsible for providing their employees with a work environment that
does not discriminate and is free of harassment. Employers are, therefore,
required by law to take steps to prevent and deal with harassment in
the workplace. If the employer has not taken all reasonable steps to
prevent and deal with harassment in the workplace, the employer may
be liable for any harassment which does occur, even if unaware that
the harassment was taking place. The United States, in particular,
has a well- articulated standard of employer
liability for sexual harassment committed by an employee.
preventive strategies and plans on sexual harassment require the involvement
of all those concerned and a clear statement of intent. The statement
of intent should reflect a real commitment from all parties concerned
to recognize the importance of the fight against sexual harassment in
the workplace. This is usually accompanied by the establishment of
a written policy.
what harassment is, tell all employees that harassment will not be tolerated,
and set out how employers and employees should respond to incidents
of harassment. Anti-harassment polices should also set forth a detailed
mechanism by which employees can make complaints
when sexual harassment occurs.
an anti-harassment policy does not mean that there will be no harassment
complaints. However, having an effective policy and procedures, coupled
with anti-harassment training for all staff, will assist in preventing
harassment and support individuals who are being harassed to come forward
and ensure that the problem is addressed quickly and effectively. In
the United States, courts have held that an employer who responds quickly
and effectively to a complaint by taking steps to remedy the situation
and prevent future harassment will not be liable to the same extent,
if at all, as an employer who fails to adopt such steps.
are some measures that employers can take in order to create a harassment-free
workplace, based on guidelines from the British Columbia Human Rights
Commission manual Preventing
Harassment in the Workplace.
it clear that this is a workplace where harassment will not be tolerated.
Provide education and information about harassment to
all staff on a regular basis. The circulation of information, open
communication and guidance is of particular importance in removing the
taboo of silence which often surrounds cases of sexual harassment. Information
sessions, personnel meetings, office meetings, group discussion and
problem-solving groups can prove very effective in this respect. Staff
should also be informed of the best way of coping with aggression by
means of guidelines and staff development programs on sexual harassment
Develop an anti-harassment policy together with employees,
managers, and union representatives.
Communicate the policy to all employees
Make sure that all managers and supervisors understand
their responsibility to provide a harassment-free work environment.
Ensure that all employees understand the policy and procedures
for dealing with harassment - new and long-term employees alike - this
involves training, information and education.
Show you mean it - make sure the policy applies to everyone,
including managers and supervisors.
Promptly investigate and deal with all complaints of
Appropriately discipline employees who harass other employees.
Provide protection and support for the employees who
feel they are being harassed.
Take action to eliminate discriminatory jokes, posters,
graffiti, e-mails and photos at the work site.
Monitor and revise the policy and education/information
programs on a regular basis to ensure that it is still effective for
should provide a mechanism for addressing sexual harassment in a confidential
and sensitive manner after a grievance has been filed. A well constructed
and well-implemented plan within an organization may stop inappropriate
conduct before it creates a problem for individual employees or the
anti-harassment policies, from the United States and Canada,
can be used as sample frameworks for creating systems to prevent workplace
harassment in other countries.
to the employer’s responsibility to provide a non-discriminatory and
non-violent workplace atmosphere, employees must also assume an active
role in the prevention of sexual harassment. Employees should commit
to do the following:
obtain and become familiar with the organization’s policy
on sexual harassment;
examine one’s feelings, attitudes, and behaviors in relation
to sexual harassment;
see that behavior corresponds with the expectations and
behavioral requirements of the organization’s sexual harassment policy.
be aware and conscious of engaging in potential sexual-harassment
behaviors or incidents at work;
be sensitive to individuals who may be offended by the
verbal and non-verbal behavior of others;
be aware of subtle forms of sexual harassment;
watch for and discourage sexual behaviors that negatively
pay attention to the response of others in order to avoid
do not assume that employees or co-workers enjoy or want
to hear risqué jokes or sexually oriented comments about their appearance,
or be touched, stared at, flirted with, or propositioned for dates or
ask yourself if your verbal or non-verbal behaviors might
have a negative impact on other co-workers’ attitudes toward work;
examine your behaviors, gestures, and comments. Ask
yourself, "Could I unknowingly be encouraging sexual interplay
by the way I interact or communicate?"
do not take sexual harassment lightly. If you think
you are being sexually harassed by an individual or a group, do not
accept it as a joke. Do not encourage the harasser by smiling, laughing
at his/her jokes, or flirting back. Let the harasser know that you
do not enjoy and do not want this type of attention.
if possible, confront the sexual harasser immediately.
Tell him/her that you find that type of attention offensive;
if possible, tell the harasser that the behavior affects
you negatively and has the potential of negatively affecting you job;
if possible, tell the harasser what behaviors (gestures,
physical or verbal) behaviors you find offensive.
seek confidential advice to develop your personal resolution
consider writing a letter to the harasser and keep a
copy for yourself;
document all the incidents of sexual harassment. Be
detailed, precise about date, time, location, and person/persons involved.
if you know someone who is being harassed, give him or
her your support. Encourage the recipient to talk about it and to take
immediate action to stop it;
if you actually see or hear an incident of sexual harassment
or are subjected to an offensive environment, you can also take the
appropriate steps to resolve the harassment or co-file with the complainant;
when a recipient files a complaint, if possible, support
him or her throughout the complaint process.
from the University
of Maryland Sexual Harassment Manual, chapter on prevention of sexual
9to5 National Association for Working Women, a U.S. non-governmental
organization, has created a List of Facts about Sexual Harassment,
which succinctly explains the U.S. law and gives victims information
about steps they can take if they are experiencing harassment.
of sexual harassment in the workplace requires training programs for both employers and employees,
which concretely address such topics as the national laws that prohibit
sexual harassment, creating workplace polices and steps that individuals