Start Ups + Small Businesses.
There is a compelling case for businesses to prevent and appropriately respond to sexual harassment. Beyond the human cost, sexual harassment seriously impacts the bottom line. The EEOC reports that from 2010-2015, employers paid $698.7 million related to sexual harassment through the Commission’s pre-litigation process alone. Cornerstone Capital Group recently examined the financial risk of sexual and gender-based violence to companies and found that both types of violence present strategic and operational risks.
Proactive, robust, and transparent policies and practices help organizations prevent and respond to sexual harassment. In this section, you'll find tools and resources business leaders need to create a respectful and productive workplace.
Tools for Small Businesses
Sexual harassment is a violation of state and federal law and includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which threatens job security, working conditions, or advancement opportunities. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by any gender or sexual orientation against any gender or sexual orientation.
The two major categories of sexual harassment addressed within federal and state law include quid pro quo harassment and harassment which creates a “hostile work environment.” It is important to know that for employers to be held liable, they must be notified of the harassment, or be deemed that they should have been aware of it.
Examples of sexual harassment include:
Research indicates there are a range of factors which can significantly increase the likelihood of sexual harassment in the workplace. Some are common and/or inevitable features in the start-up (and/or small business) environment:
[i] Feldblum & Lipnic. (2016). U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace Report. Retrieved from: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf
[vi] Samuel B. Bacharach et al., Harassing Under the Influence: The Prevalence of Male Heavy Drinking, the Embeddedness of Permissive Workplace Drinking Norms, and the Gender Harassment of Female Coworkers, 12 J. Occup. Health Psychol. 232 (2007).
Sexual harassment law, policies, and practices do not prohibit friendships and collegiality in the workplace - they encourage respect. A hug, kiss on the cheek, compliment or casual touch is not necessarily sexual harassment. The key is whether the behavior was unwelcome or offensive.
Sexual harassment does not necessarily involve romance or sexual attraction. It does not matter if a person has sexual feelings towards the recipient, only that the behavior is of a sexual nature and that it was unwelcome and/or offensive.
Sexual harassment can be perpetrated between any gender. While sexual harassment by a male to a female is the most common, the victim as well as the harasser may be female, male, or transgender. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
Sexual harassment can involve anyone who plays any role in a business.
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
Sexual harassment can be conduct directed at one or more people.
The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone who is negatively affected by the offensive conduct.
Sexual harassment does not require an intent to harass.
The intent of the harasser is irrelevant: it is the effect of the conduct on the victim and the workplace environment that counts.
Training & AwarenEss
Maine law requires sexual harassment training for employers with fifteen or more employees as well as additional training for supervisors. However, all organizations, regardless of size, should follow best practice (and risk reduction) and provide in-person, anti-sexual harassment training for all members of the board, management and staff, during employee on-boarding and on a yearly basis. Organizations should also consider including employees of contractors or vendors who are regularly on-site, or alternatively should request that such training be provided by the third-party entity. Effective training should not be simply focused on avoiding legal liability, but must also create a culture of respect that starts at the top.
A key element to prevent and effectively respond to sexual harassment in the workplace is crafting effective organizational policies. Having policies which address sexual harassment and support victims in reporting may provide insight into the enterprise’s level of risk exposure.[i] Sexual harassment policies must be easy to understand and tailored to the work environment where they will be implemented. Characteristics of effective and legal policies include:
Leadership & The Role of Culture
Good policies are not enough. Organizational leadership plays a critical role in setting the tone and creating accountability. It is crucial that employers foster an organizational culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated and where they lead by example.
Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated...but a commitment (even from the top) to a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace is not enough. Rather, at all levels, across all positions, an organization must have systems in place that hold employees accountable for this expectation."
-Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2016