Turning Policy into Action
In my post "We Received a Letter from the EEOC..." I wrote about how company policy, employee education and taking stock of your corporate culture are part of building an environment free from harassment.
Educating employees about expectations of appropriate workplace behavior is a good way to avoid a harrowing harassment claim. You should not only review handbook policies but also ensure your employees and management team know what defines appropriate workplace behavior and how to report and resolve workplace harassment issues.
Turning policy into action is where it is easy to get stuck. You need to take decisive action to put fair and equitable policies in place. As a kid I loved the Justice League cartoons. I am also a fan of the recent re-boot, Justice League movie. These heroes and heroines appeal to my desire of wanting to protect people and ensure justice. So it is not surprising to find myself in a field where I can do just that.
Bringing it back reality ... your policies, processes, actions, and culture are all parts of the overall effort to create a safe, stable and productive environment for employees to meet and serve the goals of your business. They cannot do that if they don't have a solid framework to operate in by way of sound policies and procedures.
So after ensuring you have good framework within your no-harassment policy, it is time to get down to work by training employees and managers. Your action steps should include Establishing Accountability, Surveying Your Environment, Training/Role Plays and Creating a Safe Place.
Establish accountability by ensuring your supervisors and managers understand their role in preventing, addressing and reporting workplace harassment. I have a rule that while the supervisor may have handled a harassment issue, they must always, without exception, bring it to Human Resources. This oversight ensures all issues are reported, documented, and fully and appropriately addressed.
Surveying the Environment
As leaders and HR professionals, we like to think we have our finger on the pulse of our employees. Sometimes we don't. Conduct a survey to collect employee perceptions on fairness, respect, and being heard. Include questions asking if they have experienced or witnessed harassment at work, whether they reported it, and if not, why. You may uncover some difficult information, but knowing and taking a proactive approach is far better than discovering an issue through a harassment claim.
Training and Role Plays
Educating employees about your no-harassment policy is an introduction that provides the outline of appropriate and inappropriate behavior and the steps to seek resolution. Take your training to the next level by talking employees through how to respond to a harasser in the moment, ensure they understand the process for what kinds of things they should report and how they should report them (creating more than one avenue for reporting is incredibly important), and provide reassurance of confidentiality and no retaliation for reporting an incident. Creating role play scenarios is also a great way to allow employees and supervisors to practice responding to difficult situations with a facilitator present to provide guidance.
Create a Safe Place
If employees do not feel they have a safe place to report harassment concerns, chances are the first time you will hear about them is when you get a discrimination or harassment claim. So it is imperative to create an environment where employees can report concerns confidentially, know they will be listened to with compassion, and be reassured they will not suffer retaliation. Employees can also be wary of the process. They may feel if they report a concern, it will turn into a bureaucratic process where they have no control or feel exposed. That is why it is important to create an environment where a conversation can occur.
Let People First HR help you build a foundation of integrity, respect and open communication which will allow you to continue to grow your organization and avoid costly employment claims.
Amanda Gleason is an Human Resources Compliance Consultant at People First HR, LLC. Connect with her to learn how she can help your small to medium sized business build compliant and effective programs that support and grow your organization and its people.