Workplace harassment is something we continue to hear more and more about these days. From the #MeToo movement, to the widespread allegations of misconduct in Hollywood, to workplace lawsuits receiving national attention, people are fighting back against their harassers in a very public way.
As people continue to identify and fight back against harassment, it’s more important than ever for businesses to create and enforce zero tolerance policies regarding all forms of harassment by their employees—both in the workplace and beyond it.
Clearly define harassment, in all its forms
The first step in eliminating harassment from your workplace is to clearly define it. This goes beyond just addressing ‘harassment’ as an umbrella term—really make clear what constitutes harassment. This includes all of the following:
- Quid pro quo harassment: ‘This for that’ scenarios, where an employee is pressured into giving something in return for a favor.
- Hostile working environment: A workplace where someone feels uncomfortable, generally due to discrimination of age, race, sex, religion or creed.
- Sexual harassment: Unwanted comments or advances of a sexual nature, whether made inadvertently or intentionally.
- Retaliatory harassment: When a person (or people) seeks to punish someone who previously voiced concerns of harassment or who felt discriminated against.
- Unlawful harassment: This encompasses forms of assault or abuse that are considered unlawful and punishable through prosecution.
Employees who understand the different forms of harassment will better understand what’s acceptable vs. unacceptable in their workplace.
Give explicit examples
Introducing the different concepts of harassment is only the start. Examples can help drive these concepts home. Use real-life, explicit examples to make sure there’s a clear understanding, whether they stem from recent incidents at your company or from other publicized events. The goal is to engrain the details of harassment in a way that’s relatable, so there’s no mistake in recognizing harassment. Seminars and training sessions are a great way to get these points across.
Put it in writing and make it accessible
Every company, without exception, needs a formal harassment policy in place. This policy needs to be written, reviewed and made available to everyone at your organization, so they may familiarize themselves with it. Incorporate it into new hire onboarding processes and make sure to recap and revise it annually. The bottom line is this: there should be a core resource that everyone is familiar with when it comes to your business’ policy on harassment.
Enforce your policy to the letter
With training and a formal policy in place, the only thing left to do is make sure your zero-tolerance stance on harassment is enforced. Take all claims seriously and investigate them thoroughly. If there’s a situation where harassment is proven, take swift and meaningful action and make the offender an example. A zero-tolerance policy is only effective if it’s recognized as a zero-tolerance policy!
Whether offenders are let go, suspended, sent to sensitivity training or dealt with in some other way, make sure to also pay mind to the victim. Letting them know they’re supported and that proper action has been taken can go a long way towards fostering a work environment that’s inclusive, safe and comfortable for everyone.
Ravinder S. Nagi is Assistant Managing Attorney and Chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group at BoltNagi PC, a full service business law firm serving the U.S. Virgin Islands.