All employees should work in a non-threatening, comfortable workplace. Workers who harass others – whether through ignorance or deliberately – can turn a once comfortable and welcoming workplace into a dangerous and threatening environment.
In two studies noted by The Daily Campus, one in three women between the ages of 18 – 34 “reported experiencing sexual harassment, and 71 percent of those women declined to report it.”
You have to know what unlawful harassment entails to protect your company and yourself from lawsuits in today’s world. It is defined as unwelcome conduct, based on a protected characteristic, and what a reasonable person would regard as severe or pervasive. Under federal law, some of the protected characteristics are color, race, sex, marriage, national origin, religion, pregnancy, age, and disability.
Workplace harassment is damaging for a company’s reputation and culture, and preventing and managing it should be a Human Resources (HR) priority. Here are some tips on how to prevent harassment in the workplace:
Establish a clear-cut, zero-tolerance, anti-harassment policy
Working with your HR department, write a comprehensive, easy-to-understand anti-workplace harassment and anti-discrimination policy covering all employees. Provide scenarios explaining what happens when unwelcome conduct becomes harassment. You can use videos to depict workplace harassment or create a training film that conveys your policy statement. Make sure this is kept up to date and that it is relevant to your industry or business.
Be sure to include guidance from your company’s legal counsel to ensure the policy fully complies with local, state, and federal laws and regulations. For additional technical advice in preparing your anti-harassment policy statements, you can also contact your district or regional office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the laws that prohibit discriminatory employment practices, is enforced by the EEOC.
Communicate the anti-harassment policy
A policy has no value unless you communicate it effectively to your employees and provide them with the necessary training to implement it. Employees should receive an employee handbook, including a page they have to sign as proof that they have received the policy. Apart from proper training, the most effective way to communicate an anti-harassment policy to your workers is to demonstrate and values that represent the policy’s principles. This will help to establish a culture of respect and safety by clarifying what is tolerated and what is not.
Establishing a procedure for harassment complaints
As harassment complaints are a serious matter, you should establish an effective complaint procedure ensuring that your employees feel comfortable coming to you with any problems they may experience at the workplace.
When an employee files a discrimination or harassment complaint, an employer should follow these steps:
- Notify your attorney straight away and treat any incident as if it is a court case from the moment it is reported.
- Listen to the accuser and do not retaliate against him/her.
- Take the complaint seriously and keep it confidential.
- Conduct and document an investigation without delay.
- Do whatever is necessary to stop the harassment immediately.
- Discipline the person who committed the harassment.
To make sure everyone understands the process for reporting a complaint, you can implement the following steps:
- Write your procedures down.
- Help employees understand why procedures are necessary.
- Reward employees who comply with procedures.
- Make your procedures easily accessible.
The best way to reduce your liability should harassment ever occur is to have policies and procedures in place that show that you did everything you could to prevent harassment from occurring.
Institute training and awareness programs for your employees
Training is the best tool to prevent harassment, and everyone must understand why an anti-harassment policy is necessary. Create a clear process for filing a complaint of inappropriate behavior at staff meetings and in your employee handbook. Also, make sure everyone understands that each complaint is taken very seriously and that an investigation will take place when necessary.
All employees and managers should regularly participate in an anti-harassment training program at least once or twice a year. Training should include acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the workplace, how employees should respond to and report an incident, and what steps to take when sexual harassment occurs. Workers must also be assured that the employer will not retaliate aghast them for reporting harassment incidents.
Specialized training must be provided to supervisors and managers as they are the people in charge of managing employees. They must be trained sufficiently to be aware when harassment occurs and make it clear that such behavior will under no circumstances be tolerated. They should also know how to respond and handle harassment complaints effectively.
Build a culture where harassment is unlikely to take place
The culture of a workplace is a reflection of the company’s attitudes, behaviors, and values. Organizational leadership defines acceptable behavior in the workplace, ensuring that it is part of its values.
In a healthy culture, offensive “humor” and intimidating or demeaning actions have no place. Management should continuously communicate to employees that they are dedicated to providing a safe and harassment-free workplace. A healthy culture is also more likely to attract top talent and improve employee performance.
What constitutes the basis of retaliation when alleging harassment?
Retaliation is when a company takes adverse action against an employee because he/she filed a complaint about discrimination or harassment. This can include giving the employee negative evaluations, reducing their pay, or demoting or firing them.
Employers should take special care in how they discipline an employee who has filed a complaint. If an employee has, for example, filed a complaint and receives a negative review a few months later, the employee will often assume the review as retaliation. If you discipline the employee after filing a complaint, document your basis for disciplining carefully; otherwise, a court may be suspicious that it is retaliation.
Here are four tips to prevent retaliation:
- Take complaints seriously.
- Create a policy.
- Keep records.
- Keep complaints confidential.
Harassment has no place in the workplace, and employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment. By offering adequate training, you can avoid lawsuits and create a healthy, productive culture for your business.
Coggno has a wide range of online corporate training courses regarding the prevention of harassment in the workplace.