A report compiled and released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace concluded that preventing workplace harassment requires a holistic approach comprised of a combination of critical components.

Drawing on ­findings from the EEOC report and other HR best practices, this guide provides a framework for employers seeking to implement an impactful harassment prevention program in their workplace. The guide covers the key components that have been shown to foster a respectful work environment, along with suggestions for what should be included in each element.

Contents

Policies & Procedures

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.

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Harassment Prevention Training

Training is an essential component of an impactful harassment prevention program. Effective training emphasizes practical information that not only helps employees understand what harassment is but also equips employees with how to respond to it. Training that takes a proactive approach helps employees overcome common barriers, explains how to approach uncomfortable situations, and clearly presents company policies and reporting procedures.

Most organizations want to provide training that makes a diff­erence, but there are many options available, and not all are e­ffective. During the evaluation, consider training that:

  • Incorporates modern tools and technologies
  • Fits your organization’s culture, employer brand, and demographics
  • Utilizes interactive elements that require learner engagement
  • Includes exams or knowledge checks to ensure comprehension
  • Focuses on proactive and respectful behavior
  • Helps learners understand acceptable and unacceptable types of behavior
  • Empowers employees to take action when inappropriate behavior occurs
  • Provides bystander intervention techniques and examples

Training topics

There are a few training topics that have been shown to be eff­ective in preventing workplace harassment. Ideally, your harassment prevention program will incorporate all three to maximize success.

Compliance training

At its most basic level, compliance training is focused on eliminating unwelcome behavior based on characteristics protected under non-discrimination laws. It is also recommended to include training on your organization’s specific policies, reporting and investigation systems, and how corrective actions are deployed.

The core contents of an eff­ective compliance training program include:

    • An explanation of protected classes and illegal discrimination, harassment, and retaliation
    • Examples of conduct that constitute unlawful harassment
    • Relevant examples of prohibited conduct that could lead to unlawful harassment if left unchecked
    • Information about the statutory rights of employees who experience harassment and the remedies available to them
    • Details on reporting harassment, whether experienced or witnessed, and the investigation process
    • Other information that is mandated by state or local laws

Civility training

Incivility has been shown to be a precursor to harassment. If left unchecked, it can create a climate of division and intolerance. By putting programs in place to curb incivility, organizations can prevent workplace harassment before it becomes a problem. Unlike compliance training, which focuses on what employees should not do, civility training takes a positive approach by focusing on what employees should do, therefore promoting respectful behavior in the workplace. Because of its universality and proactive nature, civility training tends to have better employee adoption than compliance training alone.

The core components of an e­ffective civility training program include:

    • A de­finition of what civility is and why it is important
    • Information about workplace norms and how they may differ from those outside the workplace
    • Information about healthy communication and interpersonal skills
    • Guidelines for civil behavior
    • How to identify and respond to uncivil behavior
    • Information about conflict resolution

Bystander intervention training

Bystander intervention training provides practical tools for employees to recognize and respond to inappropriate conduct. When bystanders are empowered to act, responsibility for preventing harassment is distributed across the entire workforce. Evidence supports that this has the power to move the workforce toward or reinforce a culture of respect.

The core components of an e­ffective bystander intervention training program include:

    • Information about the bystander e­ffect, its impact on workplace harassment, and how to be prepared for and overcome it
    • How to recognize harassment or actions in your vicinity that may lead to inappropriate behavior
    • Methods for di­ffusing or responding to misconduct
    • Practical exercises that build bystander intervention skills
    • Information on the available resources for bystanders to intervene or report problematic behavior

Provide additional training for supervisors

There is additional liability where supervisors and managers are concerned. E­ffective training for people in positions of authority should provide detailed information about recognizing inappropriate behavior, how to respond in a way that protects both the employee and the organization, and guidance on their role and internal process for addressing such behavior.

Final considerations for effective harassment training

Once your organization has implemented a harassment prevention training program, it is essential to ensure that adequate resources are in place to deploy, reinforce, and maintain it.

An eff­ective workplace harassment prevention training program will be:

  • Supported from the highest levels of leadership
  • Required for all employees at every level of the organization
  • Required for all new hires during the onboarding process
  • Repeated and reinforced regularly (e.g., on an annual basis)
  • Routinely evaluated and updated
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Common Risk Factors

Below is a list of common risk factors and considerations for how to address them. Because every business is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You may not be able to completely eliminate all risk factors but it is important to know where an organization is vulnerable and to make every eff­ort to address them.

Homogeneous Workforce

Consider implementing more inclusive and diverse hiring practices.

Employees that don’t conform to workplace norms

Facilitate a respectful work culture by conducting compliance, civility, and bystander intervention training and hold employees accountable to your workplace harassment prevention policies.

Cultural and language differences

Ensure all employees are aware of and understand federal, state, and local discrimination, harassment, and retaliation laws, as well as your organization’s policies and workplace norms.

External social and political divisions

Proactively address divisive topics and inform employees of acceptable and unacceptable conduct.

A predominantly younger workforce

Share your communication pathways and encourage reporting of inappropriate behavior. Provide workplace harassment prevention training for the general employee population and specialized training for supervisors.

Workplaces with “high value” employees

Be consistent and unbiased in the enforcement of your harassment policies. Hold all employees accountable regardless of position or perceived value.

Significant power differences

Be consistent and unbiased in the enforcement of your harassment policies. Hold all employees accountable regardless of position or perceived value.

Reliance on customer service or satisfaction

Avoid “the customer is always right” discussions and practices. Protect employees from external harassment. Consider establishing a code of conduct with clients and vendors.

Repetitive, monotonous, or low-intensity work

Where possible, implement initiatives to reduce boredom.

Isolated workers

Inform isolated workers of workplace harassment prevention policies and your complaint procedure. Provide tools like whistles, alarms, or phones for isolated workers to indicate they feel threatened.

Workplace or work-adjacent alcohol consumption

Monitor alcohol consumption and behavior. Train employees to intervene when they observe inappropriate behavior.

Decentralized workplaces

Ensure that all employees have completed compliance, civility, and bystander intervention training at all locations.

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Workplace Harassment Prevention Checklist

Workplace Harassment Prevention Checklist

Preventing workplace harassment requires a holistic e­ffort that goes beyond training alone. Use this checklist, developed from HR best practices and recommendations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to ensure your organization has addressed the critical components of an effective workplace harassment program.

  • Implement a workplace harassment prevention policy

    Develop clear workplace harassment prevention and respectful workplace policies. Include explanations of prohibited conduct and examples, reporting pathways, investigation procedures, and the process for corrective actions.

  • Provide annual workplace harassment prevention training

    Initiate an ongoing workplace harassment prevention training program that includes compliance, civility, and bystander intervention components. Ensure all new hires complete workplace harassment prevention training as part of the onboarding process.

  • Provide workplace harassment prevention training for supervisors

    Train supervisors on the company and legal responsibilities specifically associated with management roles. Training should include information on recognizing, preventing, and addressing discrimination, harassment, and retaliation along with processes for reporting claims and initiating investigations.

  • Ensure leadership buy-in that models behavior from the top

    Leadership at every level of the organization should continually model appropriate behavior and be committed to a diverse, inclusive, and respectful work environment that is safe for all employees.

  • Implement a clear reporting procedure

    Develop a reporting procedure with both formal and informal pathways. Train employees who will receive complaints to be impartial and supportive and to take all reports seriously.

  • Develop an investigation procedure

    Implement an impartial investigation procedure that is prompt, thorough, and well documented. It is important for employees to feel that action is taken quickly, and those investigations are handled fairly.

  • Conduct a self-assessment and be proactive about addressing risk factors

    Complete an analysis of your organization to determine risk factors. Address findings quickly and proactively to prevent them from becoming a larger problem.

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Respectful Workplace Services

Harassment Prevention Policies

Our HR compliance professionals have developed workplace harassment prevention policies based that can be customized to your organization’s program and culture. Our policies are aligned with EEOC recommendations and employment laws, set clear behavioral expectations, and provide optimal risk mitigation. 

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Online Respectful Workplace Training

Reinforce your organization’s commitment to a respectful work environment. Give your team the tools they need to contribute to a respectful work culture. Our convenient online workplace harassment prevention training can be completed from any web-connected device and uses interactive, multimedia content that reinforces comprehension.

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Compliance Consulting

With a deep understanding of proven methods for preventing and addressing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, our specialists are equipped to ensure you have all the elements in place to cultivate a culture of respect. Whether you need help establishing a program, adding components, or addressing complaints, our compliance consultants are here to help with all of your respectful workplace initiatives.

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Workplace Investigations

Do you need assistance with a harassment or discrimination claim? We are here to help! Our experienced workplace investigation specialists are equipped to provide evidence-based unbiased third-party investigations that follow compliance guidelines, EEOC recommendations, and HR best practices. All investigations include a  detailed report with actionable recommendations.

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Free Resources

Workplace Harassment Prevention Guide

Learn how to advance a culture of respect

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Respectful Workplace Climate Survey

DISCOVER WHERE TO TARGET YOUR DEI EFFORTS

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