HR Management & Compliance

Tips to Combat Harassment in the Workplace

Employers are often looking for ways to better combat harassment in the workplace. Some of the most obvious prevention methods include:

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  1. Have a clear policy. Ensure your antiharassment policies are clear, updated, and communicated to employees. The current policies should be easy to find so that employees always know their rights. It should be clear what actions employees can take when they experience, see, or find out about harassment or other troubling behavior.
  2. Have appropriate training. Most workplaces today have some form of training to ensure everyone knows what constitutes harassment and what to do about it. Be sure yours is reviewed and updated as needed.
  3. Have a formal system for submitting complaints. And when a complaint is received, have (and follow) a consistent process to investigate it promptly. (That said, there should also be multiple options—see below.) When harassment is discovered, it should be dealt with promptly and appropriately—without playing favorites.
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Beyond these big three items, there are lots of other things employers can do to combat harassment in the workplace. Here are a few more:

  • Train the HR team and all supervisors and managers to take complaints seriously. If complaints are taken seriously and investigated appropriately, the organization will be more likely to find—and be able to take action against—harassment when it does occur.
  • Know how to protect employees. If any complaint is received, the first action should be to ensure the person who is being harassed is not in danger.
  • Utilize your existing legal counsel to get more advice and to keep updated on case trends. Ensure your legal counsel has reviewed your policies and procedures and has confirmed they’re comprehensive and legal.
  • Assess the culture. When surveying employees (such as employee engagement surveys), ask employees how comfortable they feel bringing harassment concerns to the attention of the organization. If employees are hesitant, work on changing the environment to remove barriers to reporting this type of behavior. Ask other questions to see how prevalent this type of concern is—and take steps to change the organizational culture if you find the culture does not fully prevent this type of behavior from occurring.
  • Be sure there are multiple ways for employees to report problems. It may not be enough to have an open door policy or a policy that advises employees to go to their supervisor or HR. The employee may need to bypass specific people or may want to remain anonymous to start. If the organization wants to know about all harassment, employees need to know they will be heard and to not be afraid to report.
  • Take proactive measures to find harassment. This may mean monitoring employee communications for problematic language or behavior, for example. It could also mean being more direct in asking employees about whether or not they know of any harassing behaviors that are occurring. Remember: If the employer should have known about it, the employer may be legally liable for it.
  • Remember that harassment can take many forms. Sexual harassment is just one. Be sure that communications and training take this fact into account.
  • Monitor the frequency of complaints and watch for trends. Sometimes simply proactively watching for trends can help employers discover problem areas that may not have been obvious otherwise. (For example, if there’s an uptick in anonymous complaints, there’s probably something more that needs to be investigated; this is an obvious example, but the key is to not ignore signs.)
  • Ensure everyone is also trained on antiretaliation policies. If someone brings a harassment complaint in good faith, he or she has a right to not be retaliated against, even if his or her claim is later dismissed. There should not be a situation in which someone fears reporting a problem because they assume they will be retaliated against in some way.

Preventing and combating harassment isn’t just about being legally compliant. It’s also about creating an environment that does not tolerate such behaviors and taking action to keep your employees safe.

What other tips have you found that work in combating harassment in the workplace?