Sexual Harassment Policy
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Reinforce Your Sexual Harassment Policy

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I think my association has done a good job of sharing our sexual harassment policy with our employees, but with the current spotlight on this issue, is this the time to reinforce our policy?

A: Absolutely! The time is right to not only reinforce your policy, but also to conduct mandatory harassment training—both now and annually in the future, if that’s not already your organization’s practice.

As on every important workplace culture issue, the tone is set at the top. Have your CEO issue a statement that makes it clear that harassment, sexual or otherwise, will not be tolerated in your workplace.

The statement can be delivered via email, but it should be as strong as possible and ideally convey the executive’s personal view on the subject. For example, the CEO might say something like, “I hope you are well aware of my own commitment to a workplace where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. I firmly believe that each of you has the right to work in a professional atmosphere that promotes equal opportunity and is free of discriminatory practices.”

The tone is set at the top. Have your CEO issue a statement that makes it clear that harassment, sexual or otherwise, will not be tolerated in your workplace.

You should attach a copy of your harassment policy to this message, but first take time to review it carefully. Make sure the policy states these points as clearly as possible:

  • This policy applies to everyone in this organization and no one is exempt.
  • Everyone who works here is treated with dignity and respect at all times.
  • We strongly encourage anyone who is subjected to harassment of any kind, or to retaliation for complaining of harassment, to immediately report it to their supervisor, HR, or any member of the leadership team.
  • All reports of harassment will be  promptly investigated.
  • Disciplinary action, up to and including termination, may be taken against any employee engaging in this type of behavior either implicitly or explicitly.

As you are evaluating your current policy and updating it as needed, also consider to whom complaints are to be directed. Much of the recent media attention has been focused on people who said they didn’t report harassment because they didn’t know where to go or didn’t think they’d be believed.

To ensure this isn’t an issue in your organization, train everyone who manages people in what to do if an employee comes to them with a complaint. How your managers respond in the face of a difficult conversation can make all the difference in whether people come forward, hide their experiences with harassment, quit their jobs, or in some cases file discrimination lawsuits.

And don’t just train your managers. It’s important that all employees be trained in your policy and understand where to go with a complaint.

This is the time to stand up for your employees and their right to a workplace free of bias and harassment.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Employee Policies Employee Training Organizational Culture