45% of workers in the US have witnessed the harassment of a co-worker, with many of those people never going on to report it. Workplace harassment is a serious issue, creating a toxic work environment and bad reputation if it goes unchecked. Threatening behavior that makes employees uncomfortable should not be tolerated. That’s why it’s important to have a good harassment policy in place that covers all grounds, including policies on sexual harassment, physical violence, cyberbullying, and more. Here we give you some tips on workplace harassment policy, as well as a policy template to inspire your own version.
Identifying Workplace Harassment
Properly identifying workplace harassment is difficult because there are so many gray areas. For example:
- When does playful banter cross the line and become bullying or discrimination?
- What counts as sexual harassment?
- When does mutual flirting turn into unwelcome sexual advances?
- When should an incident be reported to a manager?
There are many gray areas that make it hard to know when workplace harassment is occurring. When in doubt, speak to a responsible manager or member of the human resources department. Check out the pros and cons of including an anti-harassment policy in your employee handbook to identify and prevent employee harassment. You are protected by US law dictating that no one who reports harassment in the workplace is able to lose their job because of it. If you can sense that you or a fellow employee is upset by the behavior of another employee, report it according to your anti-harassment policy.
What’s the Purpose of an Employee Harassment Policy?
Did you know that 53% of workers don’t report harassment, discrimination, or unwelcome sexual advances because they’re afraid that it will create a hostile work environment afterward? A workplace anti-harassment policy is important because it aims to protect employees and individuals who have been subjected to improper behavior that is affecting their engagement, job performance, and mental health. Complaints need to be taken seriously. By having procedures and policies in place, it allows individuals to file a complaint about incidents at work that they deem to be unacceptable. It also allows them to check what the HR team considers to be harassment and whether the policy applies to their situation.
Types of Harassment in the Workplace
72% of sexual harassment victims never report it to anyone. Most often occurring to women (though it can happen to men and non-binary people too), sexual harassment is a huge problem in companies around the world. 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, with most being harassed by a person in the company more senior than them. Obviously, this is unacceptable. Sexual harassment in the US is divided into 2 main legal categories – Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment.
Quid Pro Quo
Latin for “this for that”, Quid Pro Quo is when an employee has requests for sexual favors that may help the harassed employee “climb the ladder” and get ahead in the company in some way. The idea is that sexual favors are traded for something, and this is strictly illegal.
Hostile work environment
The more insidious type of sexual harassment is the hostile working environment. This refers to an office or company environment that has been made to feel hostile, threatening, and uncomfortable due to repeated sexual comments, staring, touching, and other inappropriate behavior.
Discriminatory harassment is when an employee or contract worker is subjected to abuse or professional bias due to circumstances that may include:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or gender expression
- Race & ethnicity
- Marital status
- Cultural background
There are many things that your company’s HR department may consider to be discrimination, but these are some of the main topics.
Physical harassment quite simply refers to acts of physical aggression or violence in the work environment. Obviously, this is not acceptable at your company and will need to be dealt with swiftly.
Workplace harassment includes cyberbullying, a.k.a online bullying. This can take many forms, such as catfishing, sending hateful messages online, doxing, sending abusive anonymous messages, and many other forms of online bullying. Cyberbullying can happen to anyone, so don’t treat it lightly.
Reporting Workplace Harassment
If you witness workplace harassment or experience it first-hand, be sure to report it to the human resources department following the appropriate harassment policy guidelines at your company. Gather evidence if you have it, though most cases don’t actually have evidence to show. If the behavior has only recently started, employees might want to speak to the person directly (unless the abuse is physical) and try to stop the situation before it gets worse. If that doesn’t work, relay it to the appropriate manager or HR team member. If no one at your company is helping, you might be able to take it to the EEOC – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Some larger cities like New York also have a local government agency that governs workplace harassment cases in the area.
Preventing Workplace Harassment
If you look at some of the best employee handbook examples, you will notice that they all have a dedicated section that talks about reporting workplace harassment. This will help your employees feel safe and empowered. Here are a few things you can do to prevent harassment in your workplace:
Establish a zero-tolerance policy
Make a zero-tolerance policy for harassment in your workplace. If someone is found to be guilty of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse at your company, terminate them immediately. Set an example.
Roll out training programs for employees & managers
Roll out training programs in addition to your workplace harassment policy – do this for both managers and low-level employees. This way, all your employees and management know the workplace harassment policy and what counts as harassment in your company’s eyes.
Make sure staff know how to file harassment reports
Ensure that everyone at your company knows how to file a harassment complaint in the event that someone at the company acts inappropriately toward them. This helps to monitor toxic individuals at companies and ensure that an incident is properly followed up.
Instill a positive company culture
The anti-harassment policy applies to you and your management team just as it does to your employees up and down the company. Take action as soon as possible to change the tone of your office conversations, reduce inappropriate comments, and treat all employees with the respect they deserve.
Sample Workplace Harassment Policy
Employment laws differ across different states and regions in the US, but an employee harassment policy template usually covers the most general things that employees should know about. Below is an employee harassment policy template that should give you a starting point to create your own harassment guidelines:
Workplace employee harassment policy template
[Company Name] strives for a work environment filled with dignity, decency, and respect for all people. We expect mutual trust and no intimidation, oppression, and exploitation to be shown among staff members. We here at [Business Name] will not tolerate unlawful discrimination or harassment of any kind. [Company Name] will seek to prevent, correct and discipline behavior that violates this policy by educating staff members and enforcing zero-tolerance policies for this behavior. All of the employees at [Company Name], regardless of their respective positions, are included and expected to comply with this policy by taking the appropriate measures to ensure that harassment does not occur in the workplace. An appropriate form of disciplinary action will be used immediately against any employee who violates this policy. Depending on the offense’s seriousness, the disciplinary action could include written or verbal reprimand, suspension, or termination of employment. Supervisors or members of the management staff at [Company Name] who knowingly allow or tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation are in violation of this policy and are thus subject to discipline. Corrective action will be taken against all those in violation of workplace harassment policy.