A clear and effectively implemented anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure helps employers prevent sexual harassment complaints; encourages employees to come forward when they experience harassment; serves as a road map for responding to harassment complaints; and provides an effective defense in litigation over sexual harassment claims.
Make sure that the employer does the following:
- Forbid sexual harassment. Declare that all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment, will not be tolerated.
- Define the prohibited conduct. Explain what sexual harassment is, and define the two forms (hostile work environment and quid pro quo harassment).
- Provide examples of prohibited harassment. Describe hypothetical workplace situations involving harassment. Note that the harassment may involve spoken or written words, images, and/or physical conduct.
- Include a catch-all sentence. After providing examples, state that the list is illustrative and does not include all possible incidents that may lead to investigation and disciplinary action.
- Prohibit harassment based on characteristics other than sex. Make the policy broad enough to apply to harassment that is not sexual in nature, such as harassment based on race, color, national origin, religion or creed, disability, age, marital status, or sexual orientation.
- Apply the policy to all employees, regardless of position or title. The policy can also be applied to anyone who has a relationship with the employer, such as vendors, contractors, and volunteers.
- Prohibit retaliation. The policy must prohibit retaliation against employees who complain of harassment and encourage reporting of instances of retaliation.
- Outline the investigation procedure. Outline the employer’s process for investigating sexual harassment complaints so that employees will know what to expect. For more information on the investigation procedure, see the section on “Investigate and Resolve Sexual Harassment Complaints Promptly, Thoroughly, and Impartially” below.
- Summarize possible consequences. State that in response to a finding that sexual harassment has occurred, the employer will impose discipline up to and including termination of employment.
- Identify a variety of people to whom complaints can be directed. This group might include human resources staff, supervisors, and other managers. This allows employees to select the person they are most comfortable speaking with about their harassment complaint.
- Emphasize that employees are not required to report complaints to their immediate supervisors. This will give employees who are harassed by their supervisors the option of filing complaints with other people in the organization and bypassing their supervisors.
Disseminate and Implement the Policy
No matter how well-drafted, the policy will not prevent harassment or encourage victims to report it if it is not effectively disseminated and widely implemented; therefore it is imperative to:
- Distribute the policy to every employee. Ensure that the policy is in the employee handbook and that the handbook is distributed to every employee.
- Employees must acknowledge policy. All employees should sign acknowledgment forms stating that they received and are aware of the employer’s sexual harassment policy.
- Post the policy. Post the harassment policy prominently on bulletin boards throughout the workplace and on the employer’s website.
- Train employees. Conduct training sessions for all employees on the harassment policy on a regular basis.
- Train managers. Offer additional training for managers and supervisors on preventing harassment by or of their subordinates, handling complaints of harassment, and the potential for personal liability for their actions in addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.
To find out more about investigating and resolving harassment complaints, please click below.