Having an anti-harassment policy at your workplace is one thing. Enforcing it is another. If your company is having harassment problems even though you have a policy against it, you may feel at a loss. There are a few common pitfalls that companies run into when it comes to harassment policies and training, and a few ways to make your company’s policies more effective.
There are a lot of ways a harassment policy can be poorly written. Perhaps it bans harassment without defining it, or doesn’t name specific examples of protected classes. Perhaps it’s so specific that, under the policy, very little would count as harassment. Either way, having an ill-thought-out harassment policy can be worse than not having one at all. Does the policy apply outside of work? What happens if a contractor is harassed? What happens if a customer or third-party vendor is the harasser? A good anti-harassment policy answers questions like this clearly and simply, and errs on the side of giving employees the chance to safely report an incident and trust that their complaint will be given weight.
Actually enforcing an anti-harassment policy is much harder than having the policy drawn up in the first place. If an employee feels like their complaint will just be ignored anyway, it’s unlikely that they’ll report incidents. This is why between 87 and 94 percent of employees who experience harassment never file a complaint, even in offices that have written harassment policies.
Strong enforcement doesn’t mean immediately punishing anyone who has a report filed against them; instead it means treating every complaint as valid and credible, and investigating the allegations honestly. Don’t assume you know what happened until you actually find out.
98 percent of all businesses in the U.S. have fewer than 500 employees. While this bodes well for small businesses in general, it means that anonymous reporting of harassment and abuse needs to be truly anonymous. In smaller companies where everybody knows everybody else, anonymity is especially critical, but even harder to reach.
While you may not be able to stop yourself from guessing who filed a complaint, you can definitely use software such as Suggestion Ox to provide complainants as much protection as possible. Using such software allows people to file complaints without their information being tracked at all—even their IP addresses—and allows your HR department a way to respond to complainants without breaking that anonymity.
Your employees are entitled to exactly the same legal rights and protections with a strong harassment policy as they are without one. Yet in many environments, there’s no training regarding what behavior counts as harassment, leading many people to not report. These environments can even allow harassers to imply (or outright state) that their victims don’t have the right to a harassment-free workplace.
HR professionals know this isn’t true: it’s their job to ensure that every employee on every level of the company is aware of the fact as well. This can mean a training course for new employees, a speech or seminar from a group that handles these issue, or simply periodic emails summarizing the policy. Clear and open lines of communication have to go both ways: not just from employees to HR about incidents, but from HR to employees about what rights employees have.
The trouble with a lot of anti-harassment training is that people tend to bristle at the implication that they’re part of the problem. This is why many modern harassment courses focus on skills such as bystander intervention, that assume everybody is coming into the training from the perspective of someone who means well. Of course we all know that these classes are aimed at the kind of employee who harasses people; by training bystander intervention, courses have a better chance of actually getting through to those people.
In short: your employees have the same rights whether or not your company has a robust anti-harassment policy, so you will definitely benefit from having a policy that is clear, concise, and effective. If this seems like a lot to ask, just imagine the cost of a harassment lawsuit.
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