Your company probably has some form of anti-harassment policy. (98% of US businesses have at least a sexual harassment policy, according to the Harvard Business Review.) And yet—harassment still happens. (1,000s of complaints are filed each year.) Does this mean policies are ineffective?
Too often, creating an anti-harassment policy is seen as a way to end conversations around harassment. Instead, it should be a start. Having an anti-harassment policy is great, but the content of the policy matters too. Once you’ve finalized your policy, you’ll need an effective communication strategy, company-wide employee training and a commitment at all levels to take complaints seriously.
Why an Anti-Harassment Policy is So Important
Every HR team needs to care about creating a welcoming environment where employees can reach their full potential. Obviously, any kind of harassment kills employee satisfaction, engagement and retention. In other words, if you don’t take action, you’ll lose top talent. Employees should be confident that if they’re ever harassed, it’ll be taken seriously.
At the most basic level, Anti-Harassment policies exist to lay out unacceptable behavior and detail the disciplinary procedure for complaints. It’s an essential piece of the compliance toolkit. At the same time, it offers a chance to the right tone. Taking a zero-tolerance approach to harassment, as well as training all employees on what this means in practice, shows you care about their wellbeing.
How to Write an Anti-Harassment Policy
Before writing an Anti-Harassment policy, do two things: first, gather as much expert advice as you can (reading this article is a good start), and include your legal team if you have one. Second, seek feedback from within your organization. Include employees from different departments and at different ranks. They’re the ones who know how your organization works now—and who’ll have to understand the policy in future.
What to Include in an Anti-Harassment Policy
When writing an Anti-Harassment policy, make sure you include:
- A Statement of Commitment
Start off with a general statement emphasizing your company’s zero-tolerance approach to harassment. Emphasize that all complaints will be taken seriously.
- Any Legal Necessities
Harassment is covered by both federal, state and local laws. Your policy should reference any relevant legislation and obligations these impose.
- Definitions of Harassment
Arguably the most important part of your policy is explaining what counts as harassment. It could be physical, verbal or, increasingly, digital. It can take the shape of bullying and intimidation, persistent mockery, or psychological threats. Often, as harasser may not understand how their conduct is perceived.
- Examples of Harassment
While definitions are important, consider including concrete examples of behavior that counts as harassment. Explain why it counts as harassment—e.g., asking a colleague on a date once is usually okay. However, if this persists despite repeated rejections it becomes harassment.
- Employee and Employer Responsibilities
Your policy will require actions on the part of employees and the company as a whole. Detail these in your policy. For employees, this can be to act in a responsible manner, to report any incidents of harassment and to avoid retaliation if accused. Meanwhile, employers will be responsible for taking all complaints seriously and carrying out a thorough disciplinary process.
- Complaints and Disciplinary Procedures
Explain exactly how an employee should report harassment and the procedures the company will follow once this is done. There should be punishments (which can range from a verbal warning to termination of contract) for proven harassment, for retaliating against claims and for making false complaints.
Putting Your Policy into Action
Once you’ve finalized your policy, it’s time to get it signed off by executives. Managers will have a big role to play enacting the policy—your next step is to train them on how to do this. You also want to make sure employees understand what the policy requires of them. For future employees, this training should be part of their onboarding experience.
The policy should be written in clear, accessible language, not jargon. Remember, the policy is for your employees, not lawyers. Make sure translations are available for any language spoken within your organization. Lastly, don’t forget to make your policy available to read—distribute the policy in print, using posters or on your company intranet.
Monitoring Your Policy
No policy is perfect, and you can’t afford to rest on your laurels. Track how employees feel about your policy by requesting feedback, particularly from employees who have been part of the disciplinary process, whether the victim or accused. To ensure you’re hearing the full truth, consider asking what departing employees thought of the policy during their exit interview.
To give you a head start, Paycor is offering a free Anti-Harassment Policy Checklist. Once downloaded, use this list, prepared by HR experts, to guide what’s included in your policy.