Is It Time to Revisit Your Harassment Policy?

Person providing confidential harassment report

An effective policy is much more than words in an employee handbook

As offices reopen post shutdown, it’s an ideal time to revisit and refresh your company’s protocols for maintaining a safe and respectful work environment. As demonstrated by a growing number of harassment cases making the news, it’s no longer acceptable to post an anti-harassment statement in your employee handbook and call it done.

Companies are being held accountable for managing their work environment and reacting to violations of their stated policies. If you’re not sure whether your harassment policy is adequate, here are some tips to consider.

Make Your Anti-Harassment Policy Visible

Don’t hide the policy away in your handbook. Policies on discrimination, harassment and retaliation should be posted and redistributed at least once each year. This will remind employees that inappropriate behavior is not tolerated, and that the company is committed to creating a positive work environment.

Consider retraining supervisors on how to build a culture of tolerance and cooperation. Make it clear that your company strives for diversity and inclusion, and expects its employees to treat each other well.

Keep It Simple

Be sure the process for reporting a complaint or a concern is simple, confidential and known by everyone in the company.

Be clear that managers cannot filter for what they believe is a “real” complaint. Even if an employee says they don’t want to make an “official” complaint, it should be reported. If they said it, it’s a complaint.

Name a specific person, generally an HR manager, to whom supervisors must report any complaints or concerns they receive. You also want to avoid concerns about employees not feeling comfortable talking to a supervisor. (Or a supervisor not reporting it.) Consider a system that allows employees to anonymously report concerns directly to the HR department. One such system is Suggestion Ox, which even allows the HR manager to respond to the complainant without revealing the person’s identity.

Create a Standard Procedure

The time to outline the process for handling a workplace investigation is before you have one. Here are some tips for an effective workplace investigation:

  • Use a trained and experienced investigator. This might be someone in your HR department, but it might be better to use an outside party unless this person has specific training and will be viewed as impartial.

  • Do not accuse or ambush. Explain your policy, explain your protocol for investigation, inform the person of the allegations, and get a response from everyone involved.

  • Document thoroughly. Summarize the allegations, the steps that were taken to investigate, the evidence that was gathered, and the findings on each allegation (substantiated, unsubstantiated or unable to substantiate). Note whether the behavior in question was found to be acceptable, inappropriate or harassment.

  • Communicate with everyone involved throughout the process, so they understand their concerns are taken seriously. It’s important to give the person who made the complaint support and feedback as their complaint is addressed.

Take Action

Ideally, the investigator should not be the person to act on the findings. Documented findings should be provided to a person with authority to take corrective action. Corrective action might be termination, discipline, training, counseling, transfer, demotion or reduction in pay.

Be Prepared

When a complaint is made, there’s no need to panic if your policies and procedures for handling it are defined ahead of time. Be consistent, thorough, prompt, fair, and as confidential as possible.

The key to an effective harassment policy is to be ready to act on it. Ensure that all managers know exactly how to handle a complaint, and all employees know inappropriate behavior doesn’t go unchecked. This creates a culture where all employees feel supported and protected.

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