Employee Satisfaction with Sexual Harassment Policies: The Training Connection

Article excerpt

This paper explores satisfaction with sexual harassment policies in public sector workplaces, using a survey of municipal employees to address the following policy questions:

1. What types of sexual harassment policies do employees want?

2. How would employees handle complaints of sexual harassment?

3. How satisfied are employees with current workplace policies?

4. What appears to enhance policy and process satisfaction?

It concludes that public sector organizations should: * Include confidentiality protections and sanctions in policies;

* Require that parties to a complaint be fully informed of the outcome;

* Increase awareness and knowledge of policies through employee training;

* Train supervisors in interpersonal skills and investigatory processes;

* Utilize teams to investigate allegations of sexual harassment; and,

* Understand that training and process implementation issues are more important to employee satisfaction than the policy itself.

How should complaints of sexual harassment be handled?

* "If found to be true the accused should be dismissed;"

* "The organization should try and find the truth and not the politically correct answer;"

* "An outside agency should investigate the complaint to end the current good ole boys cover up;"

* "People should handle their own problems in their own ways;"

What can be done to improve your organization's sexual harassment policy?

* "Do not use a zero tolerance policy;"

* "Lie detector tests should be mandatory;"

* "Three people should investigate as a team--no cover ups;"

* "The organization should act on the policy, right now they are only words;"

* "Start over."

These comments from respondents to survey questions asking about sexual harassment policy preferences and model policy say much about the challenges of creating and implementing sexual harassment policies in the workplace today. They are inherently contradictory and illustrate the uncertainty with which sexual harassment and concomitant policy is viewed by employees. While human resource specialists, legal analysts and academics have reached a basic consensus on what constitutes "model" sexual harassment policies, the subjects of those policies--employees themselves--are often uncertain, unclear or simply dissatisfied with policies, procedures and outcomes. This only serves to increase the innumerable challenges personnel practitioners face in trying to implement sexual harassment policies. And, because research has indicated that there is a connection between satisfaction with policy and process and willingness to use workplace sexual harassment policies, uncertainty and conflict become all the more critical. (1)

This article explores satisfaction with sexual harassment policies in public sector workplaces in the United States, using a survey of municipal employees to address the following research and policy questions:

1. What types of sexual harassment policies do employees want?

2. How would employees handle complaints of sexual harassment?

3. How satisfied are employees with current workplace policies?

4. What appears to enhance policy and process satisfaction?

Policy, Process and Satisfaction

Model Policy

Recommendations for model sexual harassment policies have remained remarkably uniform over two decades, (2) The consensus is that effective sexual harassment policies should include:

* A clear statement of what sexual harassment is and that it will not be tolerated;

* Strong commitment to and understanding of the policy by supervisors and top management;

* Training programs for both employees and supervisors regarding the nature of sexual harassment to increase awareness of unacceptable behaviors;

* Sensitivity training for supervisors to improve interaction with all parties involved;

* Training for supervisors on the proper processes for conducting investigations;

* Clear procedures for dealing with sexual harassment complaints;

* Clear lines for reporting sexual harassment that offer options yet avoid too many different actors;

* Trained, neutral investigators to deal with sexual harassment complaints;

* Investigative teams composed of both genders;

* Procedures that safeguard the confidentiality of both accused and claimant, including sanctions for breaches of confidentiality;

* Timelines for various policy processes--interviews, investigations, findings, reporting;

* Specific procedures for reporting, to both the complainant and accused, the findings and outcomes of the investigation on at least some level;

* Serious sanctions for inappropriate behaviors; and,

* Including supervisor handling of sexual harassment complaints in supervisory evaluation procedures. …