All employees should understand the legal implications of sexual harassment. However, that doesn't change the fact that small businesses are viewed differently under the law than large corporations. So what does that mean if you're a small business owner? Are you helpless in the face of inappropriate behavior?
No. You have more responsibility than ever in this situation, and just because the laws are written differently does not remove you from accountability if someone is making the workplace toxic through sexual harassment. Your office should understand this. Here's how you can help get the team up to speed.
Have a Training Program
Educating your team about sexual harassment is more than just an important step to take under the law — it's a means of ensuring your employees feel cared for and understand their rights. Companies should conduct a meeting at least once a year to review what constitutes harassment and discrimination. The reason for this is simple: Acts of inappropriate behavior still take place regardless of a business's size.
That doesn't mean they're going to take place at your company, but you need to take responsibility and set expectations around what is unacceptable behavior. Any company that had 15 people employed at the beginning of the fiscal year is subject to sexual harassment laws under the federal government. Smaller companies may not be subject to federal law, but employees should still be empowered to take action and make use of state and broader federal laws. For example, inappropriate touching at a small company might be presented as assault and battery.
Know How to Recognize Red Flags
When working on a small team, you develop strong ties to the people around you. It's one of the good things about having such a close-knit group, but it can make things awkward when an employee needs to speak up. Your company should have an anonymous procedure to report any harassment activity to the authorities on their own. In such a small company, you cannot leverage any other workers because they might be the ones implicated in the report, or could be loyal to the ones that are.
Sometimes the signs of harassment or discrimination are more discreet than outright negative behavior or inappropriate touching. For example, you might notice a pattern of hiring only young, attractive females in the office. Perhaps an employee who was pregnant has their role eliminated before giving birth, at a time when the company is under lots of pressure to move tasks through that role.
Ultimately, your safety and well-being as an employee is always top priority. If you don't feel comfortable coming forward because of repercussions, you may need to leave the workplace, but it will be a better move for you in the long term. If you're a business owner, don't put employees in this position. Give them a valid means of speaking out so they feel secure coming to work, because the ripple effect that takes place when harassment takes place is devastating.
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