As an employer, you have the responsibility to create and maintain a workplace that is free of any form of harassment or discrimination. This is not only good for the business, it is also your legal obligation.
If you allow a hostile environment to develop in your organization you will pay a high price by compromising employee morale, productivity and increasing the risk of workplace harassment investigations
(aka expensive lawsuits).
Nowadays, many states are making it mandatory for every employer and employee to be well informed and trained on anti-harassment practices. It only makes sense for many companies to be seeking guidance on how to stay in compliance.
In this article, we will provide detailed information and strategies that you need to put in practice in order to stop workplace harassment.
Let's start by defining the concept of harassment:
What is considered harassment
Harassment is unwanted behavior that is offensive and makes a person feel intimidated or humiliated. These behaviors are meant or often manage to violate your dignity and develop a hostile and degrading environment.
Action is typically considered harassment if it is consistent and persists over time. For example, constantly pressuring and frightening another person. These behaviors, when viewed individually may come across as inoffensive, but it is the repetition that generates the harassment.
However, one-time incidents could also be considered harassment if it's demonstrated to be severe and has a significant impact on the victim.
There are many different ways in which a person can be a victim of harassment in the workplace:
Most common types of workplace harassment
Let’s review a few of the most common workplace harassment issues you can encounter at the office:
Discriminatory practices can include social exclusion, refusal of promotions, or unequal benefits and treatment towards employees. This is often based on protected characteristics
(sex, gender, race, age, etc…) but can also be because of different socio-economic status, educational background, or nationality.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual advances and behavior towards a subordinate or a co-worker. It is a serious workplace harassment offense. Preventing sexual harassment in the workplac
e should be a priority.
This can be in different forms, the most common forms of sexual harassment are physical violence, touching, comments about appearance, sexually suggestive gestures, and harassing e-mails or text messages.
In some cases, sexual harassment can be hard for you to identify
, especially because the harasser will often try to be subtle. If any physical or other types of interaction with co-workers feel wrong for you, then it's most likely harassment.
It is absolutely important that sexual harassment training should be given to managers and employees in order to avoid legal issues.
Physical or verbal violence
Any threat of physical assault in the work site
can include tripping/pushing someone, spitting, taking or breaking their belongings, and even kicking or punching someone.
It can also be verbal abuse by using insulting or intimidating language towards a co-worker. This type of workplace harassment should not be tolerated.
Abusing power is the misuse of authority by supervisors and managers, often giving excessive or degrading tasks. Taking advantage of higher positions by asking for staff to run personal errands, or threatening them.
Bullying / Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be making critical or discriminatory remarks and public humiliation online. The use of social media or emails to share gossip or embarrassing/ inappropriate information about a co-worker or subordinate is considered cyberbullying and it can often be found in the workplace as well.
Retaliation means mistreating an employee or seeking some kind of revenge in response to him or her making harassment complaints about supervisors or even a co-worker.
Now that we have identified the most common ways employees can experience harassment, let's talk about the strategies and best practices for preventing it:
4 preventive actions to stop workplace harassment
Companies that invest time and effort to prevent unwelcome behaviors and protect their employees demonstrate their concern in providing a workplace harassment-free environment.
As your company's leader, you want to make sure to take the following steps into consideration to maximize prevention:
Develop a comprehensive anti-harassment policy
Your anti-harassment policy should describe all types of workplace harassment and provide scenarios if possible. This will allow you to further explain what behavior is expected from your employees and make sure they understand the consequences when unwelcome behavior becomes harassment.
Ideally, you'll want to develop a zero-tolerance anti-harassment policy to prevent employees from participating in inappropriate behavior. Have a strict policy that states an employee will lose employment if they break the rules.
Provide thorough training for all levels of employees
Training is one of the most important measures to take in order to avoid harassment in the workplace. Along with a human resources department specialist, work on developing training sessions to specifically address this issue.
Make sure to have separate training for each employee group (from frontline workers to executive staff) and provide information that is relevant to their position in the company.
This is a great opportunity to communicate your anti-harassment policy and even distribute written copies.
Establish a fair and clear complaint process
When faced with harassment, an employee must know exactly how to file a complaint and be sure that the company will take immediate action to resolve the conflict.
Ensure employees that their complaints will be fully investigated in a timely manner and there will be no adverse action against them for exercising their right to speak up. Having a standard investigation process to look into any incidents or reports can help prevent harassment.
An anti-retaliation policy can also be part of your process to convey more trust to all employees in a harassment situation.
Ensure easy access to communication channels
Employees may be facing harassment from their direct supervisor, which would make it difficult for them to report inappropriate behavior if they do not have access to different communication channels. E-mails, online messaging platforms, employee apps just to name a few.
Ideally, have more than one option for them to reach out and always make sure employees can directly communicate with your human resources department.
Ways for managers to stop workplace harassment
Managers and supervisors are the closest to front-line workers. For this reason, it is important that you know how to create a healthy environment among your team and handle offensive behavior in an appropriate way. Try this:
Keep in touch
Having constant communication with your team is very important so you can be aware of patterns and changes in behavior. Try to have both formal and informal interactions with employees and set some time apart for 1-on-1 sessions as well.
As a direct supervisor, you are closer to employees, therefore you are a key element in identifying potential harassment issues and preventing them.
Address all concerns and forms of aggression
When an employee comes to you for help, or you notice unwanted behaviors, respectfully and professionally attend to their concerns.
If you identify someone contributing to a hostile work environment, make sure to communicate with them immediately about their behavior and consequences.
If needed, follow through with disciplinary actions or escalate the issue to human resources depending on how severe the problem is. Always address the hostile work environment
issue fairly and privately.
Lead by example
The prevention of unwanted behaviors that can lead to harassment starts with you. Treating your employees respectfully will encourage respectful interactions among everyone else. Be conscious about your behavior as all your actions and comments are cues for your team.
You can also communicate best practices among co-workers during meetings to encourage participation and team-building activities. This will be a great way to show that you are also committed to providing a healthy work environment.
Workplace harassment advice for employees
If you believe you are being (or have been) harassed in the workplace, you are encouraged to report it as soon as possible. The earlier your problem is discussed and addressed the higher the chance is of it being resolved and stopping the inappropriate behavior.
Here's what you need to keep in mind before you start your complaint:
Document all harassment incidents
Make sure to gather as much information as you can about each and every incident you go through. Remember, in most cases, the action will only be considered harassment when it's constant and repetitive. You need to be able to prove this.
Keep a record of the name of the person harassing you, their position in the company, and what type of harassment he or she is inflicting on you. Don’t forget to include dates and times. All this information will help your case moving forward with your complaint.
Your co-workers can back you up and corroborate your evidence when you are ready to make a complaint. Anyone who has been present during the attack or you think may have overheard a compromising conversation.
If someone has been harassing you or bullying you, there is a good chance this can be happening to others too. Talk to people around you and help each other out.
Stay calm and professional
Avoid impulsive or reckless behavior. Follow the complaint process set by your company and make sure you take your time collecting all information necessary.
Review the situation objectively so that when it is time to bring up the issue with your supervisor or human resources department you are able to present a better case for yourself.
Follow up on your complaint
If you see that nothing is being done, do not hesitate to take it further. The last thing you want is for the harassment to continue, but even if your offender stopped their behavior, your complaint needs to be addressed and investigated. Following up with your complaint may be scary for you, so get help if you need to or if you feel unsafe. If your supervisor is not keeping you updated, reach out to the human resources department, and if you feel they are unwilling to help, you can seek legal help.
The prevention and elimination of harassment in the workplace are not easy and it will take a lot of effort on all ends to make it happen. Here are the most important takeaways to prevent harassment:
- Create a clear and easy to understand anti-harassment policy (for tips on creating an effective anti-harassment policy, read the EEOC's tips)
- Make sure employees at all levels receive proper training about workplace harassment
- Your complaint process should be clear to all employees and fairly established
- Provide several communication channels and easy access to them
- Build a positive and respectful work environment by leading with example
- Investigation of all harassment complaints in a fair, professional, and timely manner
Need help with training and compliance?
As you can see, training your staff on all workplace harassment-related issues is one of the first steps to take towards a healthy business environment. Sure, it may be overwhelming to do so, but it is worth it for your business to properly train employees. Why not consider Easyllama, a top compliance company, to help solve your harassment training needs?
offers training material that meets all of the state and federal regulations to help you achieve a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination. If you want to get your company compliant and avoid fines, we have what you are looking for:
- Easy access to sexual harassment training modules (available for smartphones, tablets, and any other device).
- You will be able to track training completion in real-time and receive notifications of completion.
- Our training is based on real-life workplace harassment scenarios to ensure a deep understanding of the topic.
- We include interactive quizzes that will make it a fun and engaging experience for your employees.
- Our prices for training are competitive and tailored to your company.
Join us today, we will help you put all of these strategies into practice and stay compliant.