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3 Ways to Prevent & Combat Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment training exists because everyone has the right to be in a harassment-free workplace. Yet statistics show that globally more than 1 in 5 workers have experienced violence or harassment at their workplace.

Not only do employers have a legal obligation to protect their workforce, they also have a moral and ethical duty. They have one basic obligation—to provide a safe working environment free from discrimination and harassment, which means taking all reasonable steps to ensure employees’ health, safety, and well-being.

Sexual harassment training incidentThe #MeToo movement resulted in increased awareness of workplace sexual harassment and elevated the importance of training on sexual harassment. This heightened public scrutiny and recognition of the consequences of sexual harassment, combined with a sharp increase in legislation led employers to make significant changes to training, policies, and dispute resolution.

Legislation On the Rise

In 2021, the International Labour Organization Violence and Harassment Convention (ILO Convention No. 190) came into force. It’s the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment. In January 2023, Canada became the 25th country to ratify the convention.

Recent legislation focuses on increased transparency, more protections for employees, and more legal obligations on the part of employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent harassment. For example, in the United States, the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance includes specific requirements for sexual harassment prevention training and bystander training for all employees and supervisors working in Chicago. (To help organizations meet these new training requirements, we launched a new comprehensive Dignity and Respect Course and a Bystander Course.)

A measure to increase transparency by stopping employers from enforcing nondisclosure agreements and non-disparagement clauses—tools that are often used to stop discussion of sexual harassment cases—was signed into law in the United States in late 2022. The Speak Out Act also enables employees to speak out if they see mistreatment of colleagues.

In the European Union, national legislation applicable to all members prohibits sexual harassment at work. Legislation in Denmark also clarifies what constitutes sexual harassment and requires employers to produce a risk assessment on harassment in the workplace. While Romanian law requires employers to implement an internal policy aimed at eliminating harassment at work.

In the United Kingdom, the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill, introduced in the House of Commons in late 2022, proposes increased protections against workplace sexual harassment. It places legal obligations on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent harassment, including harassment of employees by third parties.

Australia’s recent national survey on sexual harassment in the workplace shows relatively little change over the last four years. In 2022, 33% of workers said they were sexually harassed at work in the previous five years, compared to 2018 when 41% of women and 26% of men reported being harassed at work. The Australian Parliament passed the Respect@Work Bill, which requires employers to proactively take steps to prevent workplace sexual harassment.

In October 2022, China’s legislature passed the revised Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests (“Women’s Protection Law”), effective January 1, 2023. The law added several new provisions, including a definition of sexual harassment and specific employer obligations in sexual harassment prevention.

Sexual Harassment Prevention is Everyone’s Responsibility

Preventing sexual harassment at work is everyone’s responsibility. Cultural change needs to happen at every level of the professional ecosystem to build a workplace that is equipped to address sexual harassment. Providing resources and training tools to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment and assault is critical to making workplaces safer for all.

Identifying sexual harassment can be difficult, and one of the main challenges organizations face in preventing it is ensuring that employees understand the gray areas and know where to draw the line. It’s critical for your workforce to understand just how damaging sexual harassment can be to the organization. Sexual harassment cases often carry steep costs: victim settlements, reputational damage, loss of revenue, product boycotts, loss of consumer confidence, along with a drop in workplace productivity and morale.

The steps below can help your organization reduce the risk of sexual harassment by helping your people understand what constitutes sexual harassment and empowering them to speak up.

1. Ingrain the right behavior across the entire organization

Your organization’s sexual harassment policy needs to clearly outline behaviors that are not acceptable and the consequences of breaching the policy. This must be followed with comprehensive training to develop an understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment. The training needs to be engaging, specific, and relevant to your workplace. It should incorporate different realistic scenarios that may occur in your workplace, so people know what to do if they are ever in a similar situation. Scenarios need to be both obvious and more nuanced, and cover common gray areas, e.g., complimenting someone’s appearance, telling a joke, or tagging a colleague on social media. Employees need to have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable, however minor the situation.

2. Maintain employee awareness of expected conduct 

To build a culture of zero tolerance, employees should be reminded of the organization’s expectations of their conduct. An ongoing awareness campaign comprised of training and short, course accessibility on mobile, is an easy and efficient way to communicate reminders about appropriate conduct across the organization. Without reminders, it’s easy to conflate right and wrong ways to behave—especially in the gray areas. 

As part of the ongoing awareness campaign, employees should be trained on and encouraged by both managers and peers to be role models for good behavior and to speak up—calling out inappropriate conduct as it happens and reporting it. 

3. Educate managers on how to handle reports of sexual harassment

Victims or witnesses of sexual harassment need to trust the reporting process and its commitment to confidentiality. They need to feel safe and protected from retaliation, and confident that their workplace takes their report seriously. Managers need to be trained on how to respond to a report of harassment, know what is expected of them during an investigation, be equipped with ways to avoid sex-based discrimination, and support employees throughout the process. They must lead by example and be approachable and empathetic, regularly reminding and encouraging employees to speak up to them.

The SAI360 Approach

Providing the appropriate support and a modern approach to learning, culture, and employee communication is essential, as the effects of sexual harassment and assault can be detrimental to workers’ wellbeing.

Our approach to learning is to encourage people to do the right thing. SAI360 training takes a behavioral approach by using real-life scenarios that people may actually encounter in their workday. We also use a “show, then do” approach where a scenario is presented with the result, giving learners the opportunity to make a decision about how to handle a similar situation with feedback provided.


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