Rachel Yarch is a Partner at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella P.C. She chairs the Labor and Employment law practice group. Rachel works with organizations ranging from universities to municipalities. She has experience training a wide variety of topics including discrimination, harassment and disability accommodation.
Harassment claims cause feelings of discomfort, damage to employee morale and hold serious legal liabilities. If someone at your organization reports an incident of harassment, it's imperative to take necessary action.
6 Key Steps to Preventing and Addressing Harassment
1) Maintain a strong policy.
Every company needs a comprehensive policy no matter their size. Follow the policy with consistency. It is recommended to have a separate section protecting against harassment toward the protected classes (race, religion, age etc). There should then be a separate section on harassment that is sexual. Include the following:
- What is considered prohibited conduct with examples
- The reporting procedure (with more than one colleague listed as a resource)
- A notice regarding investigation procedures
- A non-retaliation policy
- A notice for disciplinary action, including disciplinary action for false claims
2) Require training across your workforce.
Make thorough harassment training a part of new hire onboarding. There are various methods for training from videos to interactive tests. Remember to make the training content relevant and inclusive for all employees. The training you provide for employees of the warehouse may be different from what you present to employees in an office.
Since employees in management positions oversee other personnel, it's important that they receive additional guidance. Conduct training refreshers every few years or after making any policy changes. Keep records of certifications for each employee on file.
3) Notify employees of available resources.
Promote a safe work culture through concrete policies, in depth training and responsiveness. Have more than one colleague that your employees report to about issues. If you remain thorough and listen to each incident with respect, your workforce will feel safe.
4) Establish zero tolerance
Ensure that every member of your organization is clear on policy and that your management follows all steps completely. Create an environment where your employee feels comfortable coming forward about incidents and that all complaints are reported.
5) Investigate complaints.
Effective investigations of complaints are prompt, organized and consistent. Discuss a plan for the investigation. Will you need to look through emails or texts exchanged? Who will you speak to while investigating? Keep the complainant in the loop on the investigation progress and results.
6) Document steps taken.
Keeping record of investigation notes, disciplinary action and other evidence. Have the certifications of completed training on file for each employee. Also send a note to the complainant thanking them for bringing the issue to your attention. This is important for retracing steps taken and handling cases consistently.
In cases of harassment at the workplace, your best offense is a great defense. By establishing zero tolerance from the beginning and enforcing a thorough training process, you can have a big impact on the prevention of these issues in your organization.