Harassment in the workplace can take many different forms and can have significantly negative effects on a business. It is important that HR professionals and managers know how to recognize the signs of workplace harassment and take the appropriate steps to resolve it quickly and fairly.
Despite the landmark legislative actions that social movements such as the #MeToo movement gave way to, including the recent Speak Out Act, harassment and discrimination still remain a serious concern in the workplace.
Not only can workplace harassment carry significant legal and financial implications for employers, but it can also lead to lost productivity and create a toxic workplace environment that can derail employees and teams from a business’ core mission.
Because of this, it is important that managers and HR leaders know how to recognize, address, and prevent harassment from happening within their organizations.
Understanding Workplace Harassment
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment can take many different forms and is considered unlawful when it becomes a condition of employment or is so severe and pervasive that it creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment.
The different forms of harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Offensive jokes, slurs, and/or epithets
- Physical assaults and threats
- Intimidation, ridicule, mockery, insults and/or put-downs
- Offensive objects and pictures
- Interference with work performance
Harassment can occur between anyone within a workplace environment and can happen almost anywhere.
For instance, harassment is not limited to interactions between company employees. It can occur between employees and clients/customers and between employees and 3rd party vendors and contractors.
Similarly, harassment can take place in the workplace or outside of the office at work-related events, at a client location, during work-related travel, and through social media and online channels.
Addressing Harassment in the Workplace
Employers have a responsibility to create a safe and respectful workspace for their employees.
This includes creating an environment in which employees feel protected and empowered to report harassment that they observe or experience within the workplace. It also includes creating a process by which harassment complaints are handled professionally, quickly, and fairly.
Employers should make sure they have an established and clearly communicated Anti-Harassment policy within their Employee Handbook, and have simple, clear and effective methods in place for employees to file a complaint.
Should an employee wish to file a complaint, it is important to remain neutral and ask questions such as who, what, when, where, and how frequent the harassment occurs in order to document important details and determine next steps.
Once a complaint has been made, the appropriate and designated personnel within an organization – most often senior management and HR – should be involved to properly handle the reporting and investigation process.
Complaints should always be taken seriously and should be fully documented. It is important to investigate all complaints thoroughly and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. This may include disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Preventing Harassment in the Workplace
There are many preventive measures employers can put into place to avoid harassment in their workplace.
Including an Anti-Harassment Policy within the Employee Handbook and making sure that all employees have read and signed the policy is an important first step in establishing a safe workplace.
An effective Anti-Harassment Policy should include the definitions of harassment, steps that employees can take should they feel they are being harassed, and the reporting and investigation procedures that employees can expect should they file a complaint.
Employers should also provide regular harassment training to their employees to educate them on how to recognize and report harassment in the workplace and to understand the company’s policies around harassment and reporting.
(In some states, such as New York, annual sexual harassment trainings are required. Check your state’s requirements around harassment training to make sure you’re in compliance.)
It is also important that managers receive proper training on how to handle harassment in the workplace. This can help prevent common and costly mistakes, such as not taking employee complaints seriously, dismissing or ignoring complaints, trying to dissuade employees from complaining or escalating the situation, and not fully and correctly documenting employee complaints.
Employers can also leverage their employee satisfaction and exit surveys to gauge how their employees feel about safety within the workplace. These surveys should always remain anonymous so that employees feel comfortable providing honest feedback. The results of these surveys can help shed light on an organization’s culture and areas that may need to be improved.
Harassment in the workplace is a serious concern, but employers can lessen the risk by knowing how to properly recognize, address, and prevent workplace harassment from happening within their organization.
XpanseHR Can Help
Whether you need help building an Anti-Harassment policy for your Employee Handbook, conducting a difficult workplace investigation, or providing employee training on workplace harassment and other important workplace topics, XpanseHR is here to help you build a safe and respectful workspace for your employees. To learn more, contact us at email@example.com or 610-614-5500.