Harassment is a significant risk to organizations. It is necessary to commit to prevention strategies that focus on improving the culture of the workplace and avoiding legal liability and negative public attention. The following are basic principles proven effective in preventing and addressing harassment.
Leadership and accountability
The foundation of a successful harassment prevention strategy is consistent and demonstrated commitment of senior leaders to create and maintain a culture in which harassment is not tolerated. Senior leaders should ensure that their organizations:
- Adopt a clear and comprehensive harassment policy that is regularly communicated to all employees.
- Establish an accessible harassment complaint system with multiple avenues (if possible) for making a complaint.
- Regularly and effectively train all employees on the harassment policy and complaint system.
- Regularly and effectively train supervisors and managers about how to prevent, recognize and respond to objectionable conduct that, if left unchecked, may rise to the level of prohibited harassment.
- Enforce prompt, consistent and appropriate discipline when it has been determined that harassment has occurred.
Comprehensive and effective harassment policy
A comprehensive, easy to understand harassment policy that is regularly communicated to all employees is an essential element of an effective harassment prevention strategy. A comprehensive harassment policy includes:
- A statement that the policy applies to all employees, as well as to applicants, clients and customers.
- A statement that harassment, based on any legally protected characteristic (class) under federal, state and potentially local law, is prohibited.
- A clear description of prohibited conduct, including examples.
- A description of any processes for employees to informally share or obtain information about harassment without filing a complaint.
- A description of the harassment complaint system for reporting complaints.
- A statement that encourages employees to report conduct they believe may be prohibited harassment even if they are not sure the conduct violates the policy.
- A statement that the employer will provide a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation.
- A statement that the identity of individuals who report harassment, alleged victims, witnesses and alleged harassers will be kept confidential to the extent permitted by law and consistent with a thorough and impartial investigation.
- A statement that encourages employees to respond to questions or participate in investigations regarding alleged harassment.
- A statement that information obtained during an investigation will be kept confidential to the extent consistent with a thorough and impartial investigation and permitted by law.
- An assurance the organization will take immediate corrective action if it determines harassment has occurred.
- A statement that retaliation is prohibited, and individuals who report harassing conduct, participate in investigations or take any other actions protected under federal and state employment discrimination laws will not be subjected to retaliation.
In addition, effective written harassment policies are:
- Provided to employees upon hire and during harassment trainings, as well as posted centrally, such as on the company’s internal website, in the company handbook, near employee time clocks, in employee break rooms and in other commonly used areas or locations.
- Periodically reviewed and updated as needed.
Effective and accessible harassment complaint system
An effective harassment complaint system welcomes questions, concerns and complaints; encourages employees to immediately report potentially problematic conduct; treats all parties involved with respect; operates promptly, thoroughly and impartially; and imposes appropriate consequences for harassment or related misconduct.
For example, an effective harassment complaint system:
- Is fully resourced, allowing for a prompt and thorough response to complaints.
- Provides multiple avenues for complaints, if possible.
- Provides prompt, thorough and neutral investigations.
- Protects the privacy of all parties involved to the greatest extent possible, consistent with a thorough and impartial investigation and relevant federal and state laws.
- Includes processes to determine whether alleged victims, individuals who report harassment and witnesses are subjected to retaliation, and imposes appropriate discipline on individuals responsible for retaliation.
- Includes processes to ensure alleged harassers are not prematurely presumed guilty or disciplined for harassment.
- Includes processes to convey the outcome of the investigation to the complainant and the alleged harasser, to include any preventative and corrective action taken where appropriate and consistent with relevant federal and state laws.
Organizations should ensure that the employees responsible for receiving, investigating and resolving complaints:
- Are well-trained, objective and remain neutral.
- Have the authority, independence and resources necessary to receive, investigate and resolve complaints appropriately.
- Take all questions, concerns and complaints seriously and respond promptly.
- Create and maintain an environment in which employees feel comfortable reporting harassment.
- Understand and maintain the confidentiality associated with the complaint process.
- Thoroughly document every complaint, from initial intake to investigation to resolution, and prepare a written report documenting the investigation, findings, recommendations, any disciplinary action imposed and any corrective and/or preventative action taken.
Effective harassment training
Regular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees is key to implementing any successful harassment prevention strategy by ensuring the workforce understands the associated policies, procedures and expectations, as well as the consequences of misconduct. When developing training, the daily experiences and unique characteristics of the work, workforce and workplace are important considerations.
Harassment training may be most effective if it is:
- Advocated by senior leaders.
- Regularly repeated and reinforced.
- Provided to employees at every level and location of the organization.
- Provided in a clear, easy to understand style and format.
- Tailored to the specific workplace and workforce.
- Designed to actively engage participants.
- Routinely evaluated by participants and revised as necessary.
Effective harassment training for all employees includes:
- Descriptions of prohibited harassment, as well as conduct that might rise to the level of prohibited harassment.
- Examples tailored to the specific workplace and workforce.
- Information about employees’ rights and responsibilities if they experience, observe or become aware of conduct they believe may be prohibited.
- Encouragement to report harassing conduct.
- Explanations of the complaint process.
- Explanations of the information that may be requested during an investigation.
- Assurance that employees who report harassing conduct, participate in investigations or take any other actions protected under federal and state employment discrimination laws will not be subjected to retaliation.
- Explanations of the possible consequences for engaging in prohibited conduct.
- Opportunities to ask questions about the training, harassment policy, complaint system and related rules and expectations.
- Identification and contact information for the individual(s) and/or office(s) responsible for addressing harassment questions, concerns and complaints.
Mineral is a free resource available to all clients of Professional Insurance Programs and WDA members. If you would like more more information or would like this free resource for your practice, please email [email protected] or call 800-637-4676. Additional information can also be found on our website.