As an employer or supervisor, it’s your responsibility to create a work environment that’s free of all types of harassment, including verbal, physical, and sexual harassment. If you want your employees to do their jobs well, they need to feel safe and respected when dealing with their colleagues every day. If you don’t deal with and actively prevent harassment in the workplace, you could be held liable if you or one of your employees is accused of harassing another employee. Reduce all types of harassment in the workplace by setting and enforcing strict guidelines, communicating effectively with your employees, and by establishing a means for dealing with and responding to harassment complaints.
Clearly Identify What Constitutes Harassment
An incident in the workplace, such as a word, phrase, or interaction of some kind, might seem completely innocuous to one person, while another person might interpret these same events as inappropriate behavior. To prevent this confusion, you must create a guide for identifying and preventing harassment in the workplace, so everyone on your team will be on the same page. This guide should include types of verbal harassment, including words or phrases that are meant to discriminate against an individual based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age or national origin. This might also include jokes, pranks, bringing inappropriate material to work, and nonconsensual touching.
Communicate Harassment Policy to Your Employees and Team Members
Once you’ve established what constitutes harassment in the workplace, you need to effectively communicate these policies to your employees by circulating an updated copy of the company’s workplace guidelines or an employee handbook, holding a company-wide meeting, and by making sexual harassment training mandatory for all employees. These policies should also encourage your employees to speak up if they witness one employee harassing another in the workplace.
Establish a System for Dealing with Harassment Complaints
Any set of harassment guidelines should also include a clearly defined system for dealing with and responding to complaints. This includes designating an individual or department that’s responsible for dealing with complaints and setting up a system of due process for investigating the claim. Everyone in the workplace should feel safe and comfortable when coming forward with a complaint. The company should never retaliate against an employee for reporting a concern in good faith. Any form of retaliation such as such as excluding them, passing them over for a promotion, demoting them or even changing their schedule to make life difficult not only puts the company at risk of a lawsuit, but is also extremely damaging to a the company’s culture.
When taking action against an employee accused of harassment, it’s best to use a zero-tolerance policy. If claims of harassment against an employee appear to be credible, that guilty party or parties should be fired immediately, without exception, even if such a decision have negative repercussions for the company. As the employer, your employees will look to your Compliance, Human Resources, and Legal teams to swiftly, fairly, transparently and consistently investigate and dealing with claims of harassment. If you do not have an anti-harassment program in place or if your needs a good overhaul your company is at risk.
To help you get started here are four things you should start putting into place as soon as possible.
A zero-tolerance policy will help ensure employees know that respect in the workplace is part of the company’s culture. This policy should state things like:
- Every incident of harassment will be made a top priority by HR and Compliance.
- The investigation will start the day the harassment incident is reported.
- If harassment is confirmed the individual who conducted the harassment will be terminated immediately.
- If an employee from a vendor is the one doing the harassing, then your company should recommend to their leadership team that they should be terminated and at minimum removed from the account. If the vendor refuses to take appropriate action, then your company should fire that vendor.
If an employee is not comfortable communicating directly with the person harassing them or if they speak directly to the person harassing them and the behavior does not stop then the employee being harassed needs to be able to report their concern with easy. Here are some examples of harassment reporting channels:
- Third-party Employee Hotline – This will give employees the option to report their concern anonymous if they choose.
- Directly to Human Resources, Compliance, their manager or member of the leadership team. If an incident of harassment is reported to a manager or member of the leadership team they should be educated on how to document the concern and know whom to send it to in HR or Compliance. It is essential that your management team knows not to either overreact or under react to a concern about harassment. Then need to have a consistent process to follow every time they receive a concern.
If you do not have an employment lawyer hire one or find a knowledgeable consultant to work with. All employees should receive harassment training upon hire, and annually. Additionally, managers should receive manager specific harassment training and don’t forget to train them when they get promoted to management. The tone starts with your leadership and management team. Make sure they understand what harassment is and what to do when an incident is reported to them.
Harassment training once a year is not enough you need to keep the message and the conversation going. Remind employees what harassment is, how to address the harassment and how to report it. For example, some employees may know what to do if someone touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Make sure your employees know what to do if a coworker puts their hand on their shoulder and they are unconformable with it. And make sure employees are mindful of their co-worker’s personal physical boundaries. In other words, help them know their boundaries and what to do when boundaries are crossed. I’m a big advocate for empowering employees to work things out themselves whenever possible. One communications idea would be to create a “How to address harassment” guide that can be turned into posters or posted on your intranet.
Stephanie Jenkins is the Chief Compliance Officer of ETHIX360. At ETHIX360, our goal is simple, to provide an affordable, flexible and comprehensive answer to employee communication and case management on issues related to corporate ethics, code of conduct, fraud, bribery, environmental, health & safety and workplace violence. To learn more about ETHIX360, please visit www.ethix360.com, or follow us on twitter @ethix360.