What does it take to create a comprehensive and helpful workplace harassment prevention policy?
No matter where your organization is located, you must put frameworks in place to prevent sexual harassment and any other kind of inappropriate workplace behavior. The legal requirements governing and guiding these programs will differ from one state to another — for example, New York, California, Maine, Delaware and Connecticut have all passed specific laws shaping company harassment policies — but they are necessary everywhere.
When you treat an anti-harassment initiative as an afterthought, hassle or distraction, you are limiting its ability to help your employees and company as a whole. You can and should invest in top-quality materials, as well as a deliberate and considered strategy. Rather than a simple legal requirement, anti-harassment efforts can be a critical part of overall workplace culture.
Designing Your Harassment Prevention Program
If you’re creating or refining a harassment prevention program, working from a generic model and applying changes to suit your company’s circumstances can represent the most direct and reliable way to get the new policy off the ground. The suggestions laid out in New York State’s model are a great starting point. Ensuring these basic elements are in place will help you make progress, improving the strategy further and delivering true cultural change.
Such policy pillars include:
- Clearly understood employee rules that meet or exceed the minimums in your state regarding prohibited behaviors, alongside clear statements that harassment is a violation of state employee misconduct laws and retaliation is similarly not permitted.
- Examples workers can consult to get a clearer picture of which behaviors are considered harassment. Laws that are hard to grasp when described in pure legal terms can seem clearer when explained with examples.
- Descriptions of the methods employees can use to file complaints, as well as their rights regarding the administrative and judicial resources available when reporting cases of harassment.
- Complaint forms workers can use to file reports, with human resources employees adopting practices and policies around how to quickly and confidentially receive and respond to these complaints.
- Training programs for all employees, offered on a regular schedule in line with state laws. These training programs are the primary forum by which a company delivers all the information related to the harassment policy, such as complaint procedures and examples of prohibited conduct.
Communicating the details of a policy to employees is one of the most important determining factors that can separate an ineffective anti-harassment policy from a more useful example. While you can boost awareness of a policy through visual aids such as the optional posters suggested in New York State’s model plan, training remains the focus.
You should focus on high-quality training materials to ensure employees take in and retain as much information as possible. States such as New York require training to have interactive features, such as quizzes. These demand focus from participants, as they can’t simply put on a video and ignore it if there are questions to answer after the fact. In addition to ensuring your training has interactive elements, you should make sure your workers always have access to the latest and most relevant versions of all materials.
Going Beyond the Basics
Once you’ve made certain your anti-harassment training approach takes care of all basic requirements, you can focus on innovative and value-adding developments that will deepen the cultural impact of the program and tie it in to a more general positive workplace experience. Taking ideas from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s public meeting on harassment prevention, TLNT recently suggested a few advanced ways to create a work experience where workers are free to thrive.
One important concept discussed at the EEOC gathering is the use of civility training. This means additional courses that are not directly about harassment but rather target related behaviors that may create an environment in which misconduct thrives. Workers who have a general grounding in the best practices of cooperation and professionalism may naturally be less susceptible to initiating sexual harassment or other kinds of inappropriate actions.
Civility training can be part of a greater effort to target causes of harassment in addition to creating response strategies that kick in after an incident has occurred. There is greater value for employees and the organization as a whole if leaders place a high value on preventative efforts. While the rules around countering sexual harassment largely focus on having ways to report investigate and punish infractions, a truly advanced strategy will supplement these requisites with a full suite of training offerings.
Due to the universal need to protect employees and make them feel comfortable, the concepts behind superlative harassment prevention strategies apply everywhere. All that changes based on state and local legal requirements are the details of such programs. If your company is based in one of the states that has specific requirements for its companies’ harassment policies, or if you’re simply interested in creating a top-quality program, you can learn more about meeting and going beyond regulations by downloading our white paper.