Establishing a productive, respectful and harassment-free environment should be a priority for all employers. But how can you protect your company (and your employees) from problematic behavior?

A comprehensive anti-harassment policy is a good place to start. Effectively communicating your policy and ensuring that employees understand what it means are the next steps.

Consider these essential elements for developing and reinforcing a strong anti-harassment policy (and position) in your workplace:

Endorse Zero Tolerance

An effective anti-harassment policy begins with a strong statement warning employees that no type of harassment – sexual or otherwise – will be tolerated. It’s important to emphasize that harassment claims will be taken seriously, and that violators will face consequences.

Clearly Define the Behaviors

Provide a clear definition of sexual harassment, in addition to outlining what constitutes harassment based on other legally protected characteristics.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature … when … submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions … or such conduct has the purpose or effect of … creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

Your policy should include statements prohibiting verbal harassment (unwelcome or offensive comments or slurs), as well as nonverbal harassment such as physical touching, pushing, or displaying offensive material.

Provide Examples

Spell out the various types of harassment and provide examples, such as:

  • Distribution or display of written or graphic material that ridicules, denigrates, insults or disrespects an individual based on race, color, gender, age, religion, genetic information, disability or other protected status
  • Unwanted physical contact (including pushing, punching, patting, hitting, massaging, hugging, holding, brushing against, tickling or kissing)
  • Sharing inappropriate sexual, discriminatory or insulting images or videos, messages, tweets or internet postings
  • Racial or sexual jokes or unwelcome sexual advances, flirtations, or propositions
  • Sharing sexual anecdotes or asking sexual questions, including asking questions about someone’s sexual history or sexual orientation
  • Making suggestive or insulting sounds, leering, staring, whistling or making offensive gestures
  • Requests for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion

Describe the Complaint Procedure

Detail the procedure employees should use for reporting harassment, including what is involved in the investigation process. You should name more than one person, preferably one male and one female who can receive complaints (such as a senior manager and HR director), and provide contact information for reporting incidents.

Ensure Confidentiality

Explain that all harassment complaints and investigations will be treated as confidentially as possible — and will only be shared on an as-needed basis with those investigating the claim.

Prohibit Retaliation

By law, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint or participating in any subsequent investigation or lawsuit. Include a statement in your policy communicating that employees are protected from any form of retaliation.

Callout: Harassment or discrimination based on a person’s race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information or marital status violates a number of federal, state and/or local employment laws.

Document Receipt of Policy

Distribute the policy to all employees, and obtain written acknowledgment that they have received, read and understand the policy. Keep a copy of the acknowledgement in the personnel file for each employee.

The Company Policies Smart App can help you create and manage attorney-approved employment policies, including a fully compliant harassment policy. It features federal and state-specific policies backed by legal experts, in addition to convenient tracking of distribution and receipt by employees.

Provide Training

The next step after creating a harassment policy is to ensure your employees understand it. Harassment training tools such as the Harassment Training Smart App can help you provide an effective, online program to educate employees and prevent inappropriate conduct.

It’s critical for every business to take harassment seriously. A thorough anti-harassment policy — coupled with ongoing training on how to recognize and respond to various forms of harassment — is the most effective way to foster a positive, respectful workplace. It may also help you avoid costly legal battles that could damage your reputation and financial well-being.

Key Takeaways
  • Create an anti-harassment policy that clearly defines what actions are not tolerated
  • Ensure confidentiality and non-retaliation for complaints
  • Train employees and supervisors to understand what constitutes sexual harassment (and other types of harassment)
  • Use the right tools to create and distribute effective policies, as well as train your team