5 Practices from the EEOC to Prevent Workplace Harassment

Mar 05, 2018
| David Pearson
Practices from the EEOC to Prevent Workplace Harassment

Over the last several months, sexual and workplace harassment has been one of the most talked about topics in HR. This has led to a renewed effort from employers, HR professionals, and industry influencers to address this issue and prevent it from occurring in all workplaces.

Preventing workplace harassment is critical for companies of all sizes. Organizations must put proactive practices and procedures in place that make workspaces a safe environment for all.

Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) put a task force in place to study workplace harassment and how it can be prevented. In their report from the findings of this study, they found 5 key principles that have proven to be effective in addressing and preventing harassment in the workplace.
 

1) Committed and Engaged Leadership

For harassment prevention to truly become a company-wide effort, it is essential for senior leadership to be committed and engaged.

The EEOC report says that “the cornerstone of a successful harassment prevention strategy is the consistent and demonstrated commitment of senior leaders to create and maintain a culture in which harassment is not tolerated.”

The first thing leadership needs to do is be involved in the creation of an anti-harassment policy, and be vocal supporters around a zero-tolerance policy. They also have to ensure that all harassment policies are readily accessible to employees through channels such as an employee handbook and/or a company intranet.

Company leadership must also ensure that all employees are trained around workplace harassment, how to prevent it, and the importance of reporting issues that might arise (more on that shortly).
 

2) Consistent and Demonstrated Accountability

Another critical step to preventing workplace harassment involves consistent and demonstrated accountability throughout an organization. Once again, this starts with leadership.

Company management must periodically evaluate all company harassment policies to determine if they are as comprehensive and effective as possible. Even more importantly, company leadership must be sure that any complaints around harassment are addressed appropriately and promptly. Without this, even the best policy may not work.

Lastly, companies and managers need to communicate to employees when any policy changes take place.
 

3) Strong and Comprehensive Harassment Policies

A key component to preventing workplace harassment is to have a clear, comprehensive policy. It is also critical for all employees to be trained, and to have the policy in multiple places for easy access.

A few important things to include for a strong workplace harassment policy include:
 
  • A statement that applies to everyone in the company, as well as applicants, clients, and other relevant persons
  • A zero-tolerance statement
  • A clear description of prohibited conduct and actions
  • A system on how to report a complaint
  • A statement that encourages employees to report conduct they believe may have violated the company policy
  • Stating that the employer will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, as well as the steps and procedures around how this will happen
  • Let’s employees know that the identities of individuals who report harassment claims will be kept confidential (to the extent possible and permitted by law)
  • Must include a statement that retaliation is prohibited against those who report harassment or participate in an investigation

Crafting a new workplace harassment policy, or updating an existing one, is critical to ensuring that prevention initiatives truly make a difference in any organization.
 

4) Trusted and Accessible Grievance Process

A necessary component of a strong workplace harassment policy is a procedure for how grievances will be handled and investigated by an employer. An effective grievance process is just as important as the overall harassment policy, and it should encourage employees to speak up and report potential harassment violations before they become bigger problems.

A strong company grievance process must have sufficient resources, so claims can be responded to quickly and thoroughly. It should also clearly state who and where to report potential violations to, and should include multiple reporting avenues.

The workplace harassment policy should also lay out the investigation process for grievances, and ensure a prompt and neutral investigation. It is also critical that everyone knows they will be treated fairly.

Lastly, the grievance policy must also include the process for how to relay the outcomes from an investigation to both parties involved.
 

5) Regular Training that is Tailored to the Audience and Organization

Committed senior leadership, increased accountability, a strong harassment policy, and an accessible grievance process are crucial to preventing workplace harassment. But if employees aren’t aware of these, then workplace harassment prevention can be difficult.

For any workplace harassment prevention initiatives to take hold, regular training for ALL employees is a necessity.

Training around preventing workplace harassment and company policies can and should take place in numerous forms. These can include:
 
  • In-person seminars
  • Online training
  • Interactive training sessions
  • Meetings with external organizations

Additionally, for training to be successful, it must be championed and followed by senior leadership. This is one of the many reasons why company leaders are so crucial to workplace harassment prevention.

It should also be noted that the most effective harassment training tends to be tailored to each organization and audience. For example, managers could be required to attend additional training sessions. Lastly, companies should try to tailor training exercises to fit the culture of the company. A more personalized approach to workplace harassment can make overall prevention efforts more successful.
 

Preventing Workplace Harassment Must Be an Objective for Every Business

It is extremely important for business both large and small to reassess their workplace harassment policies and procedures to ensure that they are as comprehensive as possible. Failing to do so could put employees at risk in the workplace and have serious consequences for employers.

As we move through 2018, preventing workplace harassment needs to be a key business objective for all organizations, regardless of their size.

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