As an employer, you need to take the initiative to prevent harassment in the workplace. It is your responsibility to protect your entire team, including your unpaid interns.
The laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission do not protect unpaid interns from harassment in the workplace (which, in my opinion, is just plain ridiculous). A recent article written by Blair Hickman and Christie Thompson brings to our attention how unpaid interns are considered to be in a “legal limbo.”
Unpaid interns are in this legal limbo because they do not receive a paycheck and therefore cannot be considered employees by law. Because of this, when there are cases of sexual harassment involving an intern, the intern loses their voice and cannot receive legal support. However, there is one thing employers can voluntarily be doing to prevent harassment in the workplace: stepping up internal harassment policies.
To create a safer environment for your entire team, here are some ways you can prevent harassment in the workplace:
Include interns in the workplace harassment policy in your employee handbook.
If your current workplace harassment policy doesn’t include interns, add language that protects them from harassment, even though they aren’t protected by law. By creating this revision, it should make your interns feel protected and valued while also educating your employees about preventing harassment. This revision will give your interns a voice and will help you create a safer working environment for all your employees.
Train all your employees on workplace harassment.
From your part-time employees to managers and supervisors, it is critical you provide sexual harassment training for all your workers. Provide them with sexual harassment training and teach them the policies for reporting an incident, as well as the action that will be taken. Explain to your employees their right to a harassment-free workplace and make sure your managers understand how to report sexual harassment and how to prevent it in the workplace.
Educate your interns about sexual harassment.
Young people often have a vague understanding of what sexual harassment is and the definition of appropriate workplace behavior. Before your interns begin working for your company, educate them on your sexual harassment policy and how to report a problem. Interns often feel like they are inferior to their coworkers and are constantly in the spotlight because of their position, so they’re hesitant to report a problem to their supervisor. When you educate your interns on sexual harassment, make sure they leave the training feeling safe and confident they can report a problem to their manager or your company’s human resources department.
Take all complaints seriously.
Never disregard a complaint, even if it’s from your unpaid intern. Nothing can make an intern feel more degraded than ignoring their need for a serious problem to be addressed. If you have an intern who reports a problem with regard to workplace harassment, empower them to feel comfortable coming forward. When you receive the complaint, investigate the problem immediately and follow through with your harassment policy. If the complaint turns out to be true, take swift action to solve the problem, confront the accuser, and determine the consequences for this event.
Keep it confidential.
If a report of sexual harassment is true, make sure you keep this event confidential. You do not want to exploit your intern and put him or her at a greater risk of future workplace harassment. Since the intern isn’t an employee, they’re automatically in the spotlight. Chances are your employees would be likely to side with the accuser, which, in turn, creates a bigger problem for the intern. If too many details about this event are exposed, it could create serious rumors and even more harassment for the intern. You can avoid these problems altogether by mandating both parties keep this event confidential.
Through creating a clear workplace harassment policy that protects all employees — especially your unpaid interns — you will be able to prevent future harassment in the workplace (or at a minimum, seriously address it should a problem arise). Every member of your team has the right to feel safe at work, even unpaid interns. By creating and enforcing internal harassment policies, you will be able to better protect your interns and employees, creating a safe and harassment-free workplace.
How do you protect your interns from harassment in the workplace?