Not all workplace sexual harassment policies are equal. They can vary greatly in how effective they prove to be.
One thing that can greatly impact such a policy’s effectiveness is how workers interpret the policy. Examples of the challenges that can come up related to employee interpretation of such policies can be seen in some recent research.
The study looked at the sexual harassment policy of a large government organization. In the study, a couple dozen workers with the organization were given the policy to read and discuss. Then, certain methods (such as interviews) were used to try to gauge how the workers interpreted the policy.
The study found that workers’ interpretation of the policy differed from the words of the policy. It found that workers tended to view the policy as targeting heterosexual male workers and as being highly irrational. One could see how such an interpretation could greatly impact how workers react to a policy. The study pointed to cultural aspects (both national and organizational), playing a role in the policy being given this interpretation.
So, there can be the potential for a sexual harassment policy to be interpreted differently by workers than an employer intended. Given this, it can be very important for an employer to take steps to prevent policy misinterpretation.
One thing that could impact how employees interpret a policy is what specific language is used in it. Another is how the policy is explained to workers, such as how the employer explains the policy as it is initially being rolled out. So, it can be crucial for employers to very deliberate in the language they pick for their sexual harassment policies and their explanations of such policies. This can include making sure to keep things like cultural context in mind when making such choices.
In addition to how a policy is interpreted by workers, another thing that can impact a policy’s effectiveness is how it is enforced.
So, at all different stages of putting a sexual harassment policy in place, from its development, to its “rolling out”, to its enforcement, the choices a business makes related to the policy could have impacts on the policy’s effectiveness in furthering the goal of keeping a workplace free of sexual harassment and its severe consequences. So, a business may want an attorney’s guidance throughout all of the stages of implementing a sexual harassment policy.