Establishing workplace policies, especially an anti-harassment policy, is required by the law. Beyond compliance reasons, promoting a harassment-free workplace is the right thing to do for your employee’s safety. Also, it is critical in shaping your workplace culture and maintaining a productive and peaceful workforce.
Unfortunately, recent scandals in media regarding employees indicate that harassment is still a significant problem in the workplace. One of the biggest scandals in the past few months is following the resignation of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo over sexual harassment allegations.
That said, revisiting an anti-harassment policy makes good sense for business owners. It is a way to update work culture, check for any updates to federal and state laws, and ultimately create a kind of work environment that makes employees feel comfortable and safe.
Here are 4 general recommendations to consider in modernizing your business’s existing anti-harassment policies.
1. Include Protected Classes Into Your Policy
Basically, harassment against a person’s ethnicity, age, race, sex, or religion is prohibited by the law. And you want your anti-harassment policy to include all elements and protect all classes of people.
It’s easy to focus solely on sexual harassment. After all, it does receive a lot of media uproar. However, don’t ignore the fact that other kinds of harassment are just as unlawful, and let your company be open to litigation of any harassment.
For instance, you can update your policy to include that harassment based on sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation, is illegal and won’t be tolerated.
Another example is to add another clause explaining that discriminating employees based on their disability, religion, national origin, or colour is just as unlawful.
2. Clearly Define And State What Conduct Is Unacceptable
For harassment to be unlawful under state and federal laws, the behaviour should meet specific criteria. It should be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or unsafe working environment.
However, defining and stating all unacceptable conduct, not just the ones stated in the law, can help you establish the type of workplace culture you would want for your business.
You can state something like this on your policy:
“…while not illegal, the following conduct or behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated…”
A good example is when an employee uses name-calling, mocking, or taunting to humiliate another employee’s national origin or religion. If this is a one-time joke ignorantly told without malice or an isolated occurrence of a comment, it may qualify as offensive workplace conduct only and not harassment.
These kinds of bad conduct are often lightly addressed in companies and may not be punishable by state or federal law. That said, it’s up to you to create a policy that you think is best for the well-being of your employees.
This modification in your policy allows you to stop unacceptable behaviour before it escalates into something worse and reaches illegality. If you wish to create a work culture that is safe, you need to be clear about what behaviours and conduct are not tolerated.
3. Extend Policy Enforcement Beyond Verbal And Physical Harassment
In your anti-harassment policy, you want to be clear that prohibited or inappropriate behaviour should extend beyond verbal or written and physical harassment.
With the world becoming more digitally advanced, cyberbullying and internet harassment have become an alarming issue. There is increasing harassment made via emails and social media.
So, you may want to update your policy to include those too. You could say that your anti-harassment policy extends to posts on social media as well as text messaging and email.
4. Determine Who And When The Policy Applies
Most people think that anti-harassment policies in the workplace only apply to those who work within the company. However, you should consider updating your policy to include all employees and non-employees.
Depending on the kind of business you have, these non-employees may include visitors, customers, donors, and volunteers.
So, as you prohibit your employees from engaging in misconduct with one another and with non-employees, they should also have the power to file against a non-employee for harassment.
Regardless of whether it is your most loyal customer or most generous donor, if they say inappropriate words or do malicious acts to your employee, it’s only right to punish them for their bad conduct.
Lastly, you want to make sure that your anti-harassment policy extends off-site, at corporate events, whether it’s a company party or a charity event.
A good anti-harassment policy can help build a positive workplace culture. As the world and workplace condition changes, so should the outdated policies and procedures.
Creating and establishing an anti-harassment policy and leaving it as is won’t create a significant change in a modern workplace nor provide employees with maximum protection against harassment.
So, if you want to modernize your workplace harassment policy, it might be best to consider the above recommendations.
You may also like: Workplace Harassment and How to Overcome It?
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