Workplace sexual harassment was a serious issue long before the recent national dialogue, but the spotlight on the issue has caused many organizations to take a fresh look at their anti-harassment training, policies and practices. It is a persistent and pervasive issue. It crosses industries, income levels and occupations. When considering best practices for anti-harassment measures, the focus should be on prevention. No employer is immune.
Almost a third of about 90,000 charges received by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) included an allegation of workplace harassment—that includes harassment based on age, disability, race, religion and other protected characteristics in addition to sex and gender.
It’s important to note; however, that many people don’t speak up about their experiences. Unfortunately, 75 percent of people who experience harassment in the workplace don’t report it. They may fear retaliation or damage to their career, or they may think no one will believe them.
That’s a problem for HR professionals or upper management because poor behavior needs to be addressed, but someone needs to know about it to address it. Here are some strategies for creating an environment where workers feel comfortable discussing their concerns.
Start at the Top
It may seem obvious but leadership and accountability are critical to making changes, Harassment prevention can’t just be an HR issue or a training issue.
Leadership has to be invested so that a culture of harassment is not tolerated. Leaders need to understand … power magnifies a wrong! When a leader does something wrong, it sets the tone. Send the message that the more influence or power you have, the more we expect of you.
Go Beyond Legal Compliance
Robust anti-harassment policies and compliant procedures are critical, but they have to do more than focus on legal violations.
Don’t simply define sexual harassment in a policy. Instead, policies should say, “Consistent with our culture of respect, the following behaviors are unacceptable … even if any one of them, in and of itself, doesn’t violate the law.
Complaint procedures should include multiple outlets so that workers aren’t limited to telling their supervisor. The more user friendly the policy, the more effective it will be. If people don’t trust those procedures and don’t believe something will be done if they complain, then the process won’t be effective.
Training Must Change
Businesses need to consider new and effective approaches to training. Training needs to explore civility in general and how to have a respectful workplace. It shouldn’t just focus on workers who experience harassment themselves. It also needs to empower bystanders to speak up when they witness harassment and teach them how to intervene.
Additionally, managers need to have the tools to respond to situations when they arise. If the front-line supervisors don’t know how to respond when a worker complains about something another employee said or did, “things can go off the rails pretty quickly.”
In summary, focus on an environment of respect where people understand acceptable interaction because they see it, not because they read and signed a policy. Model respect through language, actions and daily interactions.
If you have interest in learning how to reframe harassment training so the focus is on creating a respectful workplace, contact HR On-Call, LLC at 515-401-2233.
A little more about us: Susan Arnold, owner and lead HR Consultant at HR On-Call, LLC. Susan has 20+ years of HR experience and provides a HR presence to business organizations without the overhead expense of a full-time employee. Susan helps business owners improve employer/employee relationships and allows them to focus on their business while resting assured that they are in full compliance with state and federal law. Areas of expertise:
- Reduce Employer Risk and Liability
- Customized Employee Handbooks
- Performance Reviews
- Improve Employee/Employer Relationships
- Background Checks
- Personality Assessments
- Guaranteed EEO Compliance
- Employee Retention
- Recruitment / Hiring
- Employee Discipline/Discharge
Susan is passionate about her customers and listens to their needs. If you are interested in any of the details above or would like more information about her services, please contact Susan! If you have questions on how your specific policy should read or need help navigating a certain instance, contact HR On-Call, LLC.