Employers are expected by law to have policies in place for workplace harassment so that employees have a clear understanding of what behaviors are disruptive and unlawful. Laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, stop a workplace employee from getting away with unacceptable conduct, such as non-verbal and physical bullying and intimidation, sexual harassment and unwarranted performance-related actions, such as a sudden demotion. A harassment policy clearly defines harassment and gives employees instructions on how to handle it.
What a Policy Entails
A workplace harassment policy is a written document that defines what harassment is, the laws surrounding inappropriate conduct, how to spot harassment and explanations on who to report harassment to. The document should be in the employee handbook and posted in common areas, such as the break room. In addition, harassment policies and consequences should be regularly communicated to employees and managers through ongoing training, for example.
Harassment Definitions and Examples
Workplace harassment comes in the form of physical, verbal and sexual. A harassment policy clearly defines what constitutes harassment and gives examples that violate the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination Act. Unwanted sexual advancements, ethnic- or age-related remarks, abruptly demoting employees and verbal aggression should be included in the examples. In addition, the policy should state that the victim does not have to be directly involved. Witnessing a hostile and offensive work environment so much that it interferes with work performance is considered a form of harassment.
How to Report Harassment
Reporting harassment is a crucial component in getting the behavior to stop. Because of this, a workplace harassment policy needs to include instructions on what procedures a victim or manager should follow, such as the name of the person to contact. In addition, a list of resources, such as the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women website, is helpful so that employees can gain additional information and support.
Employers are liable for workplace harassment if it is proven that the harassment is reported, but no action is taken. For example, if an employee complains to a supervisor about aggressive, demoralizing behavior from a co-worker, but the supervisor never follows up or fails to give the appropriate consequences, the company is liable. In addition, if a manager's inappropriate actions result in a sudden employment status change, such as an unwarranted demotion, firing or benefit change, the company is considered at fault.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Policy Statement on Harassing Conduct in the Workplace
- Federal Communications Commission: Understanding Workplace Harrassment
- Hudson Valley JSEC: Workplace Harrassment - What Is It and How You Prevent It
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
- Iowa.gov: Sample Policy Prohibiting Harassment in the Workplace
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