PolicyWriting a harassment policy

One of the most difficult parts of working in human resources is navigating harassment. One of the first steps to preventing harassment at your organization is implementing a harassment policy. Whether you’re a first-timer or you’re reviewing your existing policies, here are nine best practices to include in your harassment policy, based on guidance from the EEOC.

Be clear. 

Avoid using jargon and “legalese.” Make sure your employees are comfortable reading the policy and can fully understand it. If your employees speak different languages, make sure your policy is available in each language. 

State the obvious.

It is illegal for an employee to harass another employee in a way that’s based on a protected class. But the EEOC recommends your organization’s harassment policy should clearly state that any form of harassment is strictly prohibited. Period.

List it out.

Although it sounds simple, many employees don’t report harassment because they don’t understand what behaviors qualify as “reportable”. Clearly explain what isn’t okay, and list examples such as:

  • Making jokes based on race
  • Asking someone out repeatedly
  • Talking about sexual activity
  • Ranting about a religion
  • Rejecting someone for a promotion because they are pregnant
  • Mocking someone’s accent

For HR, what is and isn’t harassment may be obvious. But to employees outside of HR, something like flirting or “just joking” might feel completely okay.

You may also want to explain what is okay, which varies among companies. For example, if your company allows dating among employees, you can explain that it’s okay for an employee to ask another employee out once, but not repeatedly. Your policy can also explain quid pro quo, especially if your company allows dating. If you find that your company has repeated incidents of any specific type of harassment, you can include an example of this in your policy.

Explain how to report.

Employees should feel empowered to report any experience that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, even if they’re unsure that it’s harassment. Clearly explain the steps of how they can file a complaint: 

  • How do they file a complaint? 
  • Who reads the complaints? 
  • What happens during an investigation? 
  • What is the range of disciplinary actions? 

Then, explain what steps are taken once an employee does come forward. The EEOC recommends employers use an effective and accessible harassment complaint system to handle reports.

Keep it confidential.

It’s best practice to assure your employees that you’ll keep reports as confidential and anonymous as possible. In your policy, explain when and why confidentiality can’t be completely guaranteed, so that employees don’t feel betrayed during an investigation.

Ease concerns. 

In 2018, more than half of all charges with the EEOC were on the basis of retaliation. As important as it is to have a harassment policy, it’s just as important to have a retaliation policy.

Retaliation can look like:

  • Demotion
  • Firing
  • Salary reduction
  • Job shift

Your policy can state that employees who report harassment or help with investigations will not face retaliation. As an employer, you can be held liable if you engage in retaliatory behaviors as the result of an employee reporting harassment.

Distribute widely.

Add the harassment policy to your employee handbook, but also bring light to your harassment policy by reviewing it during onboarding, posting it in break rooms and HR offices, and sending company-wide emails informing employees when there are any changes. By building a conversation around your harassment policy, you can send the preventative message that your organization takes claims seriously and will not tolerate harassment.

Keep it current.

As our culture changes and evolves, it’s likely that your harassment policy will do the same. Once you’ve written your policy, SHRM recommends that you review it at least once a year. If you’re receiving lots of harassment complaints, review it even more often. When you review it, ask yourself if it’s clear, if it effectively discourages harassment, if it provides the resources employees need to report, and if it reflects your company’s culture.

Get started.

To get started, check out these harassment policy templates from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

When you receive a complaint, make sure that your actions speak louder than your words by handling that complaint quickly, fairly and effectively. Use a misconduct reporting & management tool like FirstVoice to intake, track and investigate complaints.

To learn more about FirstVoice, visit our website.

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