As soon as a company is informed of a sexual harassment problem, a company official should intervene in some way, according to interviews with experts.
These experts recommended that the intervention include extensive interviews with the person bringing the charge and with the person who is being accused of misconduct. They also recommended that the company ask the victim how she or he would like the problem resolved. In some cases, the victim may want a transfer; in other cases, just an assurance that the behavior will stop.
In addition, many experts suggest a hot line or ombudsman or some other avenue where victims can get confidential advice on how to handle a situation.
A Working Woman magazine survey found that 76 percent of the companies surveyed have written policies banning sexual harassment, and another 16 percent include it in their policies against discrimination. More than half said that fears of lawsuits prompted the company to institute formal procedures for dealing with sexual harassment.
Lawsuits and settlements can be costly. There are also less visible costs. The Working Women survey found that sexual harassment costs an average Fortune 500 company $6.7 million a year in absenteeism, low productivity and employee turnover.
Unfortunately, said experts, the topic of sexual harassment makes many managers uncomfortable, and some try to ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. "Sexual harassment is so delicate to some people, that they can't deal with it," said Linda Krystal Doran, a Seattle-based consultant.
The subtler cases are particularly confusing for executives, especially men, to deal with, according to several experts in the field.
"Generally speaking, men and women perceive the issues differently," said Stephen F. Anderson, a Denver-based consultant on sexual harassment, who said that over the years he has come across many men who have had problems differentiating between friendly behavior and subtle sexual harassment.
Anderson said that in his seminars the men "often complain that we are taking the fun out of the workplace. That it's naturally more sexual with women there. That's how we relieve tension. That's how we've always been."