Since the outbreak of the #MeToo movement, sexual assault allegations have been made in multiple industries, from the film industry, fashion industry, U.S.A. Gymnastics, to even the U.S. Senate and House. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) 2016 study, 1 in 4 women are sexually harassed in the workplace. While this toxic corporate culture might be more overt in certain industries, it’s imperative that the multifamily housing industry collectively incorporates policies that will ensure these communities are a safe place to live and work.
How Widespread is Sexual Assault?
Legally, sexual assault is a broad term that includes crimes like sexual harassment, any unwanted sexual contact, child sexual abuse, and rape. Overall, sexual assault is surprisingly common, as “one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.” On top of this, the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence further reports that nationally, “one in every seven victims of sexual assault is under the age of 6, and one in four victims of sexual assault under the age of 12 is male.” With sexual assault so widespread, no industry is immune. It’s vital that rental communities create procedures that aim to prevent sexual assault and properly address a victim’s needs if it occurs.
Some Much Needed Policy Updates
While there is no fool-proof method to prevent sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace, there are a couple of measures you can take to curb potential threats. First and foremost, you should be performing pre-employment screening on all job applicants. This is especially important for potential property managers, on-site managers, or maintenance staff as they have the most contact with residents. Above all you want your residents to feel safe, as your staff’s actions have a ripple effect on your community. In addition to screening all of your job applicants, you should make sure your community utilizes annual employee background checks that are relevant to their position as well. Updating records to ensure employees who have access to vehicles maintain a clean driving record, and anyone with access to rental units maintains a criminal record that meets your company’s standards for employment. While it might seem redundant, annual employment background checks are the most objective method to making sure your company’s standards are being met. You might find out that your colleague or employee’s criminal history has become much more concerning than when they started several years ago.
If sexual assault or harassment occurs, your company needs to be prepared. Investigate all complaints using timely and proper methods, making sure to contact the victim and address their needs along the way. Above all, make it a priority to create a corporate culture where employees feel comfortable making formal complaints without risking their career in the process. The EEOC found in a 2003 study that “approximately 30% of individuals who experienced harassment talked with a supervisor, manager, or union representative” as “75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.” Clearly define what constitutes harassment in multifamily positions to all of your employees while they’re undergoing initial training, and include veteran employees with refresher content as well. Grace Hill offers an excellent free sexual harassment training course for property managers (available in both English and Spanish). They also offer a similar sexual harassment course for supervisors at a nominal fee.
While you might have some of these policies already in place in your communities, it’s important that these policies (especially when a sexual harassment complaint is filed) are continuously upheld. We cannot let sexual harassment allegations fall through the cracks. Above all, it’s essential that both employees and residents feel safe within their communities, victims included.
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