Handling Sexual Harassment When There Is No HR Department

The topic of sexual harassment has dominated headlines in the news and been at the forefront of discussion for a number of months. After several consecutive stories broke of several high-profile figures in the media last fall, the topic has been taken up, not only by large corporations but within small businesses as well.

In an article that appeared on the HBR.org website, it details how many small and medium-sized companies don’t have a dedicated HR department. In the United States, some 43% of workers are employed in an organization with fewer than 50 people.

For these small businesses, sexual harassment matters are handled by executive staff such as CEO’s and office managers or the business owners themselves. All payroll, benefits and human resource policies are more than likely created and enforced by these individuals, including what is considered acceptable workplace behavior and what isn’t. Having such a written policy in place is important, because not having one can hurt the business when it comes time to recruit new workers.

Smaller businesses and their employees are likely to feel it much more when an incident of disruptive behavior crops up within the office. Workers interact more closely, and tensions are felt more acutely. Article author, Karen Firestone, like many fellow business owners, has had to help her employees navigate difficult situations in their lives including medical and financial emergencies and help reconcile at-work relationships that have arisen. Firestone and her peers keep an especially watchful eye for any signs of toxicity or indication that harassment might be going on. This may manifest itself as tension between workers, anxiety or unhappiness on the job.

Small businesses don’t necessarily need their own HR department to prevent or circumvent harassment. Being clear about acceptable behavior, enforcing the rules, and careful investigation and remediation of the situation can do much to prevent a sexual harassment situation before it starts.