Defined as a single or a series of unwelcoming conduct of a sexual nature that is perceived by the recipient (the victims) to be intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive with the intent to violate the dignity of the recipient, the term sexual harassment is no stranger in today’s society. With the #MeToo movement catalysing the fight against sexual harassment and turning out to be an ultimate game changer, transcending geographical and social borders, it is definitely important to be an ally with the survivors of sexual harassment and call out the perpetrators involved.
Delving deeper into this, sexual harassment could happen to anyone, regardless of their attire, religion, caste or creed and it could occur almost anywhere be it in learning environments, workplaces or even on the road. Fun fact; some seemingly innocent acts such as “friendly” banters with sexual overtones and inappropriate hugging also constitutes under sexual harassment and these are grave offences, nevertheless!
Now, since we’ve covered the bases, let’s talk about sexual harassment in the workplace. In Malaysia, according to a survey conducted by Women’s Aid Organization, 62% out of the 1,010 Malaysian women surveyed have reported that they experienced some form of sexual harassment in their workplace.
In spite of that, currently there has been no sexual harassment laws that protect individuals against sexual harassment, except for the Employment (Amendment) Act 2012 (Act A1419). So, it is tremendously important for employers to ensure that their workers are protected at all costs from perpetrators lurking within the workforce.
And yes, this applies to remote workforces too! In remote workforces, sexual harassment can occur via the language used verbally or through texts. To solve this, a good sexual harassment policy is necessary to promote a safe space for your employees to thrive in. Therefore, here are 4 simple steps to set up sexual harassment policies in your remote workplace.
1) Having a detailed complaint procedure
The first step in combatting sexual harassment in the workplace is to set up a detailed complaint procedure. This complaint procedure might enable the employee to report a harassment complaint to his or her supervisor. However, in circumstances where the supervisor is the individual harassing the employee, the procedure should allow the employee to bypass the supervisor, who is now an alleged perpetrator.
It should be important to note that, in many instances where sexual harassment has occurred, the survivors might take some time prior to complaining about it, therefore, utmost care should be taken to handle all complaints of sexual harassment without being judgmental towards the survivors and their experiences.
At the same time, they might also take some time to open up about their gruesome experience dealing with sexual harassment, firsthand as it leaves a long-lasting trauma to the victims. On a side note, championing gender inclusivity is central in dealing with sexual harassment cases. To prevent victims from feeling uncomfortable when lodging their complaint to their superiors of the opposite sex, integrating technology would be essential, since some of these employees are remotely based. Creating a chatbot that doesn’t identify with any gender would allow the victims to lodge a complaint without knowing the gender of the person behind the chatbot.
2) Organize workshops and training in collaboration with local women Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
Each company should be responsible for providing their employees with information and resources regarding sexual harassment as well as the necessary actions in case one encounters it first-hand. Being sexually harassed is a scary moment to go through and the company should be responsible for ensuring the welfare of these victims are taken care of. The next most terrifying moment a victim of sexual harassment would have to go through would be when everyone around them starts victim-blaming them.
To this date, there are many individuals who think that the occurrence of sexual harassment is the fault of the victims for provoking the perpetrators with their attire, or actions. This ignorance, sadly stems from the lack of education regarding this topic among the masses. To solve this issue, it should be an essential team-building component to ensure that each employee undergoes a sexual harassment training program that provides them with the necessary information regarding sexual harassment. In the context of remote working spaces, all the employees could attend virtual training sessions which would be conducted by a qualified personnel.
These days, with the influx of sexual harassment cases in the workplace, NGOs in Malaysia, such as the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) organizes workshops and training sessions, that are conducted in lecture style. Their workshop aims to equip all their participants, consisting of employees of companies with knowledge on how to detect, understand, address and resolve sexual harassment.
Signing up your company for these workshops, which could be done over a span of a few months, would result in a healthier and less toxic working environment for the survivors of sexual harassment and this might even reduce the occurrence of sexual harassment cases in the workplace.
3) Clearly state that the company has a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment
A major step that would be a game-changer for your workplace would be a strict reminder regarding a zero-tolerance policy towards any acts of harassment, including sexual harassment.
If possible, this statement should be repeated during each Zoom meeting with your employees to ensure that everyone understands that it is a non-tolerable issue. For further emphasis, consider inserting it in the meeting’s chat-box along with other rules that are deemed important to safeguard the safety of your remote employees.
This could even be placed in the company’s website as a way to reiterate your company’s stand against sexual harassment. As employers, you would also be required to be a good example to your employees by making sure that you don’t interact with the alleged perpetrators unless it’s for work purposes. This would establish your employee’s confidence towards you and the company and it validates their haunting experience of going through the entire ordeal of being harassed. The perpetrator should understand that his or her actions have serious consequences and this includes termination of employment.
4) Establish the consequences that come with being a perpetrator
Every good policy should come with the punishments that come with going against it — including a sexual harassment policy. In a remote work setting, harassment could occur generally through texting and virtual meetings. If proven to be guilty, harsh action should be taken against the perpetrator without bias. These punishments serve two important purposes — to protect the victims and the other employees from further harm as well as to educate the perpetrator regarding his mistakes.
The best measure would be to terminate the perpetrator from his or her services. Giving him or her a lighter punishment such as a temporary suspension might cause further distress to the victim and the victim might be subjected to further harassment or even threats by the perpetrator when he or she comes back to work after the suspension tenure.
As an organisation, keeping your employees safe and free from harm’s way at work, be it in a virtual or physical setting, is essential in ensuring that a healthy working environment is guaranteed for the employees. A virtual working environment, poses the same hazards as a physical one, hence an employee might not be completely free from the shackles of harassment and violence.
As a result of the sexual harassment faced by the employee, the employee might even lack motivation to show up for virtual meetings hence, he or she could miss out on big opportunities that aid in their career development. Therefore, it is best to put an end to workplace sexual harassment by being allies with the victims and holding the alleged perpetrators accountable for their actions.