Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is the title of a recent article from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC). The article reminds us that Nonprofits are not exempt from sexual harassment claims like those recently in the news for business firms and public agencies. A nonprofit can be held liable for a hostile work environment if it knew, or reasonably should have known, of the conditions or activities and failed to take corrective action. Policies, procedures and training can help shield your organization from liability. They can establish a forum for open communication at an early stage so that a misunderstanding or insensitivity can be corrected before it explodes into a legal complaint. Not only may policies avoid costly litigation, they may prevent escalation to more serious assaults. The policies, however, must be effective. The article goes on to offer the following suggestions that can help you develop appropriate policies and procedures. Start at the top. The board of directors plays an important role in eliminating sexual harassment. It can create a healthy workplace by emphatically stating a commitment to creating and maintaining a harassment-free workplace — regardless of the rank or position of the alleged harasser. A “zero tolerance” policy will set the tone, discourage inappropriate behavior, and encourage open communication. Policies and procedures should prohibit both harassment and malicious accusations of misconduct. Violation of the policies should result in appropriate disciplinary action. The policies should be backed by a procedure for investigating allegations that protects the privacy of all parties. Commit the policies to writing. Written policies are easily distributed in a variety of ways (e.g., in the staff handbook or on the lunchroom bulletin board). Supervisors can be required to sign an agreement stating that they have read the written policies and will adhere to them. Written policies can be referred to as needed and used to document your organization’s position should an allegation be made. Spread the word. Policies and procedures that go no farther than the written page is of limited value. Cover your organization’s policies at staff orientations and provide ongoing communication, through written memos or training sessions, to make the policies widely known. Supervise for compliance. Require notification of the executive director, or other top manager, of any and all complaints and ask the board of directors to hold that individual accountable for the resulting investigation and course of action. Make changes as necessary. Solicit staff feedback, through interviews or surveys, in order to assess the adequacy and effectiveness of your organization’s policies and procedures. Review your policies and procedures periodically to ensure that your organization is still in compliance with applicable laws.

You can protect your organization from sexual harassment claims by enhancing communication, taking each claim seriously, investigating each allegation thoroughly and fairly, and taking appropriate disciplinary action. Specific policies and procedures may prevent inappropriate behavior in the first place, and they can guide staff response to allegations, ensure fair and equal treatment, and document the reasonableness of your action if you still end up in court. Read the full article HERE.

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