It is vital to have robust anti-harassment policies and ensure that all employees have read, understood, and signed an acknowledgment of receipt for these policies. At the very least, this reduces employer risk by providing evidence of your efforts to curtail harassment in the event of a claim.
Policies can set the tone for your organization, define prohibited conduct, and provide examples of unacceptable behavior. In addition, well-written policies provide documentation that managers at all levels can refer to when addressing employee behavior. Finally, when communicated frequently, rigorously enforced, aligned with the company’s values, and modeled by leadership, policies provide a foundation for a culture of respect and ensure equitable and consistent treatment throughout the organization.
But not all policies are the same. An effective workplace harassment prevention policy includes several elements to provide employees with an understanding of your organization’s commitment to a respectful work environment that is safe for all employees. Include the following components to create an effective harassment prevention policy:
A clear definition of unacceptable behavior
Your policy should clearly state that discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on any protected characteristic are illegal and not tolerated. The policy should also define other prohibited behaviors by your organization and include industry-specific examples and social media considerations. It is helpful for some of these to be more subtle examples that don’t rise to the level of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Keep in mind that you want to prevent behavior that could escalate to the level of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
A clear reporting process
Your reporting or complaint process should be easy to understand and provide multiple avenues and contact points that are easily accessible for making complaints. The policy should encourage reporting not only from targets of inappropriate behavior but also from bystanders and employees who know about misconduct. Consider formal channels, anonymous channels, and casual channels.
An investigation process
Your process should lay out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation procedure. Include information on how your investigation process works, who will be conducting it (for example, a qualified consultant or Human Resources representative), assurances of impartiality regardless of the power dynamic, and how the investigation will conclude.
A corrective action statement
It is essential to provide assurances that the organization will take immediate and proportionate action if it finds that inappropriate behavior has occurred as outlined in your anti-harassment policy, regardless of whether it rises to the level of legal discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
A confidentiality statement
Include verbiage that the organization will protect the confidentiality of targets, bystanders, and the person submitting the report to the extent that it is able and where confidentially cannot be maintained, protections will be put in place for employees involved during the investigation process.
A protection from retaliation statement
Provide assurances that anyone making a complaint or providing information about suspected misconduct will be protected from retaliation by the organization, its managers, or its employees.
A training process statement
Training is an essential component of an effective workplace harassment prevention program. Elements of an effective workplace harassment prevention training program are covered in the next section. Include a statement about your training program and language about the frequency and scope of the training.
A good faith statement
While protection from inappropriate behavior is paramount, it is also important to include language about the consequences of filing a false claim. The verbiage should not be written in a way that discourages employees from making good-faith complaints, but make clear that where investigations turn up fabrication, disciplinary action may occur.