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Ethical Practices

How Employers Can Support the Reporting of Harassment

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How Employers Can Support the Reporting of Harassment
To reduce workplace harassment, employers must take preventive measures such as establishing an effective reporting process.

Harassment is defined as any unwanted behavior that is offensive and makes a person feel intimidated or humiliated, as it relates to protected characteristics. It can occur in both public and private places. Harassment continues to occur in the workplace, with 25% of workers in a recent survey reporting an increase in gender-based harassment during the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly related to remote work. To eliminate verbal, physical, and visual harassment in the workplace, employers must formulate preventive measures, including distributing an anti-harassment policy, providing harassment prevention training, and creating an effective reporting process — so let’s discuss these strategies for implementing them in your workplace.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

First of all, employees and employers must know what is considered sexual harassment in the workplace. Any behavior that makes someone uncomfortable and relates to protected classes can be classified as harassment, and can fall under three main categories: verbal, physical, or visual. Many employees become the victim of sexual harassment, especially when their employer does not effectively address the issue.

Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment is a type of non-physical harassment that makes employees feel less comfortable, humiliated, threatened, or intimidated. Most of the time, people find it challenging to identify verbal harassment because of different reactions among other colleagues. Some types of verbal harassing behavior include comments regarding an individual's national origin, offensive jokes, threats, age discrimination, name-calling, put-downs, and more.

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment is an act where someone inappropriately touches an individual against their will. Physical harassment in the workplace is also known as workplace violence. Physical harassment behavior intimidates, embarrasses, threatens, and makes the victim uncomfortable.

Visual Harassment

Visual harassment is a situation where an individual exposes themselves to another person without the victim's consent.

Prevention courses from EasyLlama can help train employees to recognize harassment, discrimination, microaggressions, and more — as well as how to report it. As covered in our prevention training, any unwelcome physical, verbal, or visual behavior in a working institution falls under the definition of workplace sexual harassment.

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Impact of Unaddressed Harassment in the Workplace

Employers and the human resources department need to prioritize eliminating harassment and discrimination in the workplace or it could lead to a hostile work environment. In a legal sense, harassment is what creates a hostile work environment, with some type of unwelcome, discriminatory behavior being made against a worker’s protected characteristics.

If offensive conduct continues and inappropriate behavior continues, it could negatively impact employee retention and reputation, with 34% of respondents having left a job due to unresolved harassment issues, according to our partners at AllVoices in a 2021 survey. AllVoices is an Employee Feedback Management Platform (EFMP) used by companies to regularly request, accept, analyze, and act on a variety of employee feedback. Employers can leverage AllVoices to build trust with employees, increase retention, mitigate risk, and improve employee well-being, along with maintaining SOC2 and SOX compliance.

Crafting an Anti-Harassment Policy

All employers should maintain an anti-harassment policy for their workforce to come out in front of harassment situations and show your employees that you are looking out for them. Companies should distribute the policies to all employees and ensure they read and understand them, and as with harassment training, this may also be required in some states. Ideally, companies should develop a zero-tolerance anti-harassment policy to prevent employees from participating in inappropriate behavior and promote a safer workplace. Including an anti-retaliation statement as part of the policy can also convey trust to employees who may be facing a harassment situation.

EasyLlama suggests a strict policy that states an employee will lose employment if they break the rules in order to provide a safe workplace for all. The policy should also be included in the company's Code of Conduct, and should detail how employees can report an experience of unlawful harassment. There are many great examples of anti-harassment policies available online, including from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

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Providing Channels for Employee Reporting

Employees have a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment, and employers have a legal responsibility to investigate and take corrective action if necessary. If an employee experiences sexual harassment, they should be able to check their employee handbook (or the previously mentioned anti-harassment policy) to find out how to report harassment at work. It also recommended that employers provide more than one channel to report harassment, just in case their harasser is a supervisor or an HR employee who might have been their first channel for reporting.

EasyLlama’s Anonymous Reporting and Case Management tool allows employees to confidentially submit feedback regarding harassment, workplace safety, and more so that their concerns can be addressed head-on by company administrators. Our dashboard features ensure both the anonymity of the employee and the effective management of complaints, contributing to a safer workplace culture.

Harassment Investigation Procedures

Once a report is filed, employers will conduct an investigation into the claim. Employers should do their best to protect the confidentiality of the employee, but keep in mind it is not always possible to be 100% confidential. However, employers should do what they can to protect the privacy of everyone involved. If the harasser admits to the conduct, the investigation may be complete. If the alleged harasser denies the accusation, a fact-finding investigation must commence.

Investigations may be handled by a supervisor, HR, or legal department. Investigators will interview the complaining party first, then the accused person. Relevant witnesses will also be interviewed, and any relevant documents will be collected. Investigators might pay a visit to the site of the harassment to view security footage, if available. Once the investigation is complete, they will write a report and communicate the findings to all parties involved. If the investigation shows that harassment has happened, employers must take corrective action to make it right and prevent the harassment from happening again.

When an employer wants to look out for the best interests of their workforce, one of the best ways to help stop sexual harassment is through prevention training. Many states even require anti-harassment courses as a part of their compliance laws. EasyLlama provides both anonymous reporting tools and best-in-class training for employees and supervisors that addresses harassment and discrimination prevention, how to report harassment at work, bystander intervention, and much more to keep your workplace a safe environment for all. Get a FREE preview of our engaging online courses today!

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