Sexual Harassment: When Bad Taste Has Gone Too Far
The movie Horrible Bosses may have poked fun at extreme sexual harassment, but it should be considered an entertaining warning. There may be a gray area between bad manners and sexual harassment, but if you create an environment where bad manners are tolerated, sexual harassment will often follow. Why? Because one easily leads to the next. Here are a few examples:

• Rubbing a co-workers shoulders may not be sexual harassment, but do it a couple more times after being asked to stop and it’s sexual harassment.

• Telling one off color joke or story might make someone uncomfortable, but keep it up and HR will hear about it.

• Telling a co-worker he or she looks smoking hot might is bad enough, but continually include remarks about specific body part as smoking hot, and it’s a straight path to a lawsuit.

Four Steps to Preventing Sexual Harassment

So how do you keep your company from going down the wrong path? Be proactive. Create a plan of attack. Make sure everyone knows how to play nice.

1. Create a sexual Harassment Policy.  Put your clearly written sexual harassment policy in the hands of your employees from day one by including it in your handbook. suggest that your policy include the following: definition, disciplinary actions, complaint procedures and investigation policies, among other things.    

2. Ongoing Training. At least once a year, conduct training sessions for employees. And mix it up. I’ve worked at offices where we heard the same thing every time. We tuned out. You can try popular interactive videos, like He Said, She Said, where viewers are given scenarios (many with gray areas) and afterwards they have to decide if the action constitutes sexual harassment or not.

3. Train supervisors and managers. At least once a year, conduct a separate training sessions for supervisors and managers. Not only should it teach them how to handle complaints, but they should also understand their unique risks.

4. Monitor. Not everyone feels comfortable making a complaint. Keep an eye out for inappropriate jokes, notes, and other activities.

Don't let bad taste and poor manners to turn your office into a into a sexual harassment lawsuit ready to happen.

For the latest in effective sexual harassment prevention training, be sure to preview Media Partners' new production, Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment at Work. Available as interactive eLearning or for use in facilitator-led classroom training, this program features cinema-quality production, coverage of all types of sexual harassment, comprehensive support materials, and more. It complies with NY, CA and other state training mandates.

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.