More and more employers are working to establish basic rules aimed at eradicating sexual harassment in the work force.
"I think that what we see now is that when individual companies make a real effort to prevent it, they do," said Anne Ladky, executive director of the Chicago-based Women Employed advocacy group. "It may never disappear completely, but it could come very close."
Some suggestions offered by experts on how to try to prevent harassment from occurring:
+ Set up a policy. Explicitly define what would qualify as sexual harassment in your workplace and explain how your policy to prevent such behavior will be enforced. Make sure details of the policy are dispersed to all employees. For example: deliver it with paychecks and hang it on a bulletin board in a common meeting area.
+ Enforce the policy. If you ignore it, you could end up in big trouble. Once you put it in place, you open the liability door _ your own words could be used against you.
+ Make sure the human resources department knows what is going on in the rest of the company. Encourage workers to talk to human resources officials if they have a problem. And encourage human resources employees to get out and talk to the other employees. Too often, experts warn, a lawsuit is filed about an incident that the people in human resources never knew about.
+ Train your workers. If possible, send them to diversity classes or bring in speakers to clear the air on the subject. Make sure everyone understands the corporate philosophy of not tolerating discrimination or harassment.
+ Handle problems quickly and document them in writing. If a worker has a complaint, address it immediately by investigating the allegation and keeping records of the investigation. Check back with the worker and make sure the matter is resolved.
+ Ensure that people know they aren't going to be punished for making an allegation _ or for being wrongly accused. If people understand that they can talk about issues, the problem is more likely to be fixed.
"If you can get management to do the right thing, it makes everyone happier," said Stanley Kiszkiel, a former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer who now is in private practice in Miami. "And if everyone is happier we'll see fewer lawsuits."