How To Create A Workplace Harassment Prevention Policy

Workplace harassment is never OK. Your employees should feel safe and respected while on the job and shouldn’t have to experience harassment of any kind from their peers. That’s not just our opinion—it’s the law. It’s up to you and your managers to create a work environment that makes your staff feel comfortable at all times by building an anti-harassment policy in your employee handbook.

Not only does a policy against offensive conduct and harassment at work keep your team safe, but it also prevents you from undergoing an expensive lawsuit if an employee files a complaint.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the average harassment-based lawsuit settlement costs business owners $100,000. If it’s taken to court, business owners can expect to pay anywhere from $175,000 to $250,000.

The best way to prevent harassing conduct in your workplace is to build a thorough anti-harassment policy and train your employees to follow it. This can be done easily in a few simple steps.

Understand and Define Workplace Harassment

The EEOC defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).”

Harassment is considered a form of employment discrimination under several laws in the United States, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Not all offensive behaviors are classified as harassment. The conduct must be so extreme that it creates an intimidating work atmosphere to be considered illegal.

There are three main types of workplace harassment:

  • Written or verbal harassment: Sending offensive emails with jokes about race or religion, asking about family illness history, making insensitive comments about someone’s age, mocking someone’s foreign accent
  • Physical harassment: Offensive hand gestures, playing offensive music
  • Visual harassment: Displaying offensive posters, drawing violent or derogatory images, showing other people offensive texts or emails

Set Up Your Harassment Prevention Policy

Your workplace harassment prevention policy should first define harassment as unacceptable behavior that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Then, lay out the consequences for both isolated incidents and continued misconduct. Inform employees that retaliation against a team member for making a claim is prohibited.

Explain your procedures for internal complaints and encourage employees to report all issues immediately to designated receivers. Let them know complaints will be investigated confidentially.

Include investigation timelines, emphasizing the importance of dealing with complaints within 48 hours. Prevent retaliation by explaining it could include firing, demoting, or excluding the employee who filed a complaint.

Once you set up your policy, have employees sign it to acknowledge understanding. Hold a training session to ensure they grasp how not to act and how to handle harassment issues properly.

Employer Liability

Employers have legal responsibilities concerning harassment. If a supervisor is the harasser and the harassment leads to negative employment action, the employer is automatically liable. However, liability can be avoided if the employer can prove they took reasonable steps to prevent and promptly address the harassing behavior.

Employers can also be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees, if they were aware of the situation and failed to act.

Lay Out Investigation Timeline

Employees should know how to quickly report a harassment incident to conduct an investigation as soon as possible. The EEOC recommends dealing with a harassment complaint within 48 hours of the incident.

The individual who receives the complaint should get every detail the affected employee can provide and assure them they will thoroughly investigate it. These details should include at minimum the dates and locations of the incident, involved employees, and any witnesses.

The investigating employee should then conduct interviews with the involved team members and record their findings in a written report.

Prevent Retaliation

Almost 50% of harassment cases handled by the EEOC are related to retaliation, so your team needs to be made fully aware of what exactly it means.

Retaliation typically comes in the form of any adverse action against a team member who has filed an internal complaint or a complaint with the EEOC or acted as a witness in an ongoing investigation.

Examples of a retaliation response may include:

  • Firing, demoting, or transferring the employee
  • Withholding a promotion or raise
  • Excluding the employee from business-related activities
  • Creating a hostile work environment

Once you set up your policy, have your employees sign it to acknowledge that they understand it. It’s also important to hold a training session on the contents to ensure they have a grasp on how not to act and how to handle any harassment issues that occur.

If you need more help setting up your policy, Homebase HR Pro provides affordable access to certified advisors who can help you set up your new policy and answer any questions you may have on this topic and more.

12 Workplace Harassment Examples

Discriminatory Harassment

Discriminatory harassment refers to the mistreatment of an individual based on their membership in a protected category, such as race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. This form of harassment is particularly damaging because it not only affects the targeted individual’s psychological well-being but also perpetuates inequality and systemic bias. Discriminatory harassment can happen in various settings, including the workplace, educational institutions, or public spaces.

It often involves repeated behaviors, such as derogatory remarks or unfair treatment, which create a hostile environment for the victim. Laws in many jurisdictions provide remedies for discriminatory harassment, making it imperative for organizations to develop strict anti-harassment policies and reporting mechanisms.

Race-based Harassment

Race-based harassment targets individuals based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin. It often manifests through derogatory comments, racial slurs, and stereotyping, which can lead to feelings of alienation and marginalization for the victim. In extreme cases, race-based harassment may also involve physical attacks.

This type of harassment not only harms the individual but also reinforces societal racial disparities. Consequently, it is critical for institutions and organizations to take proactive steps to address race-based harassment, including diversity and inclusion training, as well as creating safe channels for victims to report such incidents without fear of reprisal.

Gender Harassment

Gender harassment is a form of discrimination where individuals are mistreated based on their gender. This can include actions targeted towards people of any gender and may involve behaviors such as belittling remarks, gender-based jokes, and even physical violence or assault in extreme cases. Gender harassment often reinforces traditional gender roles and contributes to an environment where inequality persists. It can have a significant impact on the victim’s self-esteem, job performance, and overall well-being.

Addressing gender harassment involves not only legal ramifications for the perpetrator but also cultural shifts within organizations and society at large to ensure that all individuals are treated equitably, regardless of their gender.

Religious Harassment

Religious harassment involves the mistreatment of individuals based on their religious beliefs or practices. This could manifest in a variety of ways, including derogatory comments, unwanted proselytizing, or even threats of physical violence. The impact is not just emotional; it can also affect a person’s job performance, academic standing, or general well-being.

Addressing this issue requires a multi-pronged approach, from educating people on the importance of religious tolerance to implementing strict policies and penalties for those who engage in harassment.

Ability-Based Harassment

Ability-based harassment refers to the unfair treatment of individuals based on physical or cognitive abilities. This can happen in schools, workplaces, and social settings. Such harassment may include derogatory comments, exclusion from activities, or discriminatory practices in employment. It often perpetuates harmful stereotypes and can severely affect an individual’s self-esteem and opportunities for growth. Legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States aims to counter this form of harassment, but there’s much work to be done on a societal level to address and eradicate it.

Sexual Orientation-Based Harassment

Sexual orientation-based harassment is the targeted mistreatment of individuals due to their sexual orientation. This form of harassment can take many forms: offensive jokes, slurs, or even physical violence. It is a pervasive issue that can occur in a variety of settings, such as the workplace or educational institutions.

Like other forms of harassment, it has a damaging impact on mental health and can lead to long-term emotional scars. Anti-discrimination laws are in place in many countries to protect against this kind of harassment, but social attitudes and prejudices still present significant obstacles.

Age-Based Harassment

Age-based harassment involves the mistreatment of individuals specifically because of their age. This can affect both older and younger populations and manifests in comments, attitudes, or policies that unfairly disadvantage individuals based on how old they are. In employment settings, for instance, older employees might be viewed as less capable or less adaptable, while younger employees may face skepticism about their competence.

Legislation such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in the United States offers some protection, but societal attitudes also need to shift to fully counteract this form of harassment.

Personal Harassment

Personal harassment, often referred to as bullying, is a form of mistreatment where an individual is targeted for reasons that may not fall into the categories of race, gender, or other legally protected characteristics. It can happen in various settings, such as the workplace or social circles, and often involves a pattern of demeaning behavior like insults, belittling comments, and exclusion.

These actions can lead to emotional stress and have detrimental effects on the victim’s psychological health. Addressing personal harassment often involves creating awareness about the issue and building strong anti-harassment policies to protect individuals.

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment involves unwanted physical contact or threats of bodily harm. It can range from subtle invasions of personal space to more severe actions like assault. Such actions can induce fear, anxiety, and emotional trauma in the victim.

Physical harassment is a criminal offense in many jurisdictions, and it is essential for organizations to have strict policies to prevent it, as well as mechanisms for victims to safely report incidents. Legal consequences may include restraining orders, job termination, or even criminal charges against the perpetrator.

Abuse of Power

Abuse of power happens when someone in a position of authority exploits their role to mistreat or manipulate others. This could occur in workplaces, educational institutions, and even familial settings. Examples include managers who intimidate employees, professors who unfairly grade students, or parents who emotionally manipulate their children.

Abuse of power can have far-reaching implications, affecting the victim’s career, education, or well-being. Policies should be in place to ensure checks and balances on authority figures, and channels should be open for victims to report abuse without fear of retaliation.

Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment includes any conduct that mentally distresses or terrorizes an individual. Unlike physical harassment, the impact here is emotional and mental, making it harder to identify and address. This form of harassment can manifest through various behaviors, such as persistent criticism, humiliation, or emotional manipulation.

The consequences can be severe, including depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. The complexity of psychological harassment necessitates a nuanced approach to resolution, often requiring mental health professionals’ expertise to assess and address the situation effectively.

Online Harassment

Online harassment pertains to the mistreatment or bullying of individuals on the internet. With increasing amounts of social interaction happening through online platforms, this form of harassment is becoming more prevalent. Cyberbullying, doxxing, and trolling are typical examples.

The anonymity that online platforms offer can embolden harassers, making this a particularly difficult issue to manage. Law enforcement agencies and internet platforms are still working on effective ways to monitor and combat online harassment, but it remains a pressing concern. Public awareness and educational initiatives that focus on the responsible use of the internet can be a first step toward mitigating the problem.

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