Hands-Off Policy

Setting The Rules

If you don't have a sexual harassment policy, write one. Define harassment, state that the company won't tolerate it, and tell employees what to do if they're harassed. Then make sure everyone understands the policy, and set a tone that makes it clear you take it seriously. "You need to say it's appropriate to blow the whistle on someone," Cohen says.

The policy should include a procedure for reporting sexual harassment complaints to avoid having unfounded accusations crop up months after someone leaves the job. "Tell employees that if they're going to complain, they have to do it in writing," Gibson says. "That makes it easier to defend yourself." Also, give an option other than reporting to the employee's supervisor, who may be the harasser.

Know what's going on in your office. Notice the posters and listen to the talk. "Be proactive rather than waiting for problems," Cohen says. Try an anonymous survey to see if your employees think their co-workers are out of line.

If a complaint arises, take it seriously. Interview the victim, the alleged harasser and any witnesses. (To avoid charges of defamation, use open-ended questions about inappropriate behavior, which encourage the witness to volunteer names.) Keep a record of what's said. Evaluate and take action, such as giving the perpetrator a written warning, and tell the complaining party what you did. Follow up to make sure the conduct has stopped. After all, running a business is difficult enough without employees harassing each other.

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This article was originally published in the July 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hands-Off Policy.

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