Harassment in the workplace has made big news over the past year. As allegations of harassment have rocked Hollywood, media empires, the sports world, and some of our most respected institutions, organizations and employees are becoming increasingly aware and sensitive to the negative effects of workplace harassment.
Not only can workplace harassment claims tarnish a company’s reputation and possibly lead to costly lawsuits, but having a work environment in which harassment is tolerated can put a damper on employee morale, causing emotional duress, low productivity, and high turnover.
As defined by the EEOC, harassment is “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”
It is behavior no organization should tolerate and a liability no business can afford.
While isolated incidents may sometimes occur in even the best places to work, positive workplace environments can go downhill quickly when harassment is not handled effectively.
One problem employee or unaddressed behavior can negatively affect your entire business.
If your company tolerates conduct that creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive, you could be opening yourself up to lawsuits.
Examples of workplace harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Physical threats or intimidation
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Offensive jokes
- Name calling, insults, or mockery
- Slurs or epithets
- Offensive objects or pictures
Any of these behaviors coupled with employment decisions affecting the victim, such as lack of promotion, demotions, disciplinary actions, or termination could lead to legal ramifications.
To provide a harassment-free workplace and establish an environment that promotes healthy morale:
Implement a solid harassment policy
Audit your existing policy. Is it is clear, comprehensive, and communicated effectively? Seek advice from a human resources consultant or employment attorney to ensure your company’s harassment policy is in compliance with local, state, and federal laws.
If you find that your harassment policy needs to be revised, enlist help and make it a priority.
Conduct Regular and Ongoing Harassment Avoidance Training
Train your employees on the specifics of your company’s harassment policy. Do not leave it up to them to read a poster or simply sign a document. Thorough training will help to prevent misunderstanding and instill the importance of maintaining a harassment-free workplace.
Even if your state does not require workplace harassment prevention training, it is strongly recommended that you train your employees when they are hired, promoted into a supervisory role, and on a regular ongoing basis.
Establish Clear Expectations and Action Plans
Make sure your employees know exactly what to do to follow your company’s harassment policy. Not only should they be aware of the kind of conduct that will not be tolerated, they should know how violations are to be reported, documented, and handled.
Putting procedures in place with transparency and consistency will go a long way toward promoting a harassment-free work environment.
Take Workplace Harassment Complaints Seriously
When employees bring up concerns with supervisors or human resources, it is important that the company takes each complaint seriously and handles it with immediacy. Not only will your response help to establish trust and goodwill with the employee who is bringing an issue to your attention, taking action quickly protects the company as it documents your attempts to address and rectify the problem
Remember, the incident itself is not usually enough to affect morale or open your company up to a lawsuit; it’s your response and the actions you take to resolve the problem that often matters most.
As a human resources consultant for small businesses, I help my clients establish and maintain harassment-free work environments by developing and implementing effective harassment policies and providing harassment avoidance training. Should harassment occur, I help clients take swift corrective action and prevent recurring problems.
Does your organization need support in maintaining a harassment-free environment? Contact us for one of the following solutions:
- Drafting employment policies, including non-harassment, non-discrimination, sexual harassment, workplace bullying, and more.
- Training and workshops, including custom workshops for your organization and Harassment & Non-Discrimination in the Workplace: Training for HR Pros
About the Author
Niki Ramirez is the Founder and Principal Consultant at HRAnswers.org a firm dedicated to providing impactful yet practical human resources advice and organizational development support to businesses of all sizes. Niki is a dual-certified HR professional with experience spanning over 20 years, including: serving in operational leadership roles, adjunct business faculty member, and as a human resources executive. She carries with her a strong desire to educate and empower employees and their leaders to work in partnership to design and implement meaningful human resources programs that drive the success of their organizations.