Author: Sarah Crawford
To prevent and address discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace, employers must provide effective policies and procedures. An effective policy sets expectations about behavior, provides examples of prohibited conduct, and explains the complaint and investigation process. Investigations should be conducted in a timely manner, and determinations should be communicated to the parties. Disciplinary action should be progressive and proportional to ensure accountability. Employers should incorporate the following considerations to ensure effective policies and procedures. Managers and staff should be trained on these policies and procedures.
- Detail what constitutes prohibited conduct. It is important to nip small problems in the bud to ensure a safe and respectful work environment. Make clear that not only unlawful conduct, but also inappropriate conduct will not be tolerated, including stray comments, sexist or racist jokes, etc. Consider establishing a policy that addresses relationships between employees and/or prohibits relationships between supervisors and direct reports.
- Make clear who can report concerns or file a complaint. Make clear that employees who experience or witness inappropriate conduct, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation can raise concerns and make complaints.
- Make clear that the policy applies both within and outside of the workplace. The policy should apply to conduct at work, business events, social events, on social media, and by phone, text, email, etc.
- Make clear that inappropriate conduct by third parties or directed to third parties will not be tolerated. The policy should state that harassment, discrimination, and retaliation by clients, members, customers, vendors, contractors, etc. will not be tolerated. Likewise, inappropriate conduct by employees will not be tolerated when it is directed toward a third party. In the case of inappropriate conduct by a third party, corrective action may include termination of the business relationship.
- Provide multiple points of conduct with the organization. Make clear that employees can report concerns to a supervisor, human resources officer, or other designated individuals, such as a board member. Ensure that reports can be made to trusted individuals and consider the gender and racial diversity among the individuals assigned to hear concerns. Specify mandatory reporting obligations for individuals designated to receive complaints. Provide an effective reporting policy for complaints against managers and organizational leaders.
- Consider offering anonymous reporting to an independent third party, such as an ombuds. An organizational ombuds can provide an independent and confidential resource to help employees explore options to resolve conflicts and concerns at the work.
- Take prompt action to address inappropriate conduct. Accountability is key. The response should be prompt, thorough, and proportionate. Clearly lay out the process and timeframe for each stage of the investigation process. Corrective action may include counseling, discipline, or termination. The response should be clear, consistent, and transparent. Communicate the resolution to the parties involved. When concerns about inappropriate conduct are widely known within the organization, the organization should communicate a strong message to staff that inappropriate conduct will not be tolerated and corrective action has been taken.
- Provide strong protections against retaliation. Make clear that retaliation will not be tolerated when a complaint is made in good faith, regardless of whether the complaint is ultimately deemed to have legal merit. Make clear that protections apply to witnesses and others involved in the investigation. Prohibit retaliation of any kind, including discharge, an adverse job assignment, harassment, bullying, professional disparagement, etc.
- Provide regular training on policies and procedures. Ensure that employees and managers understand their rights, obligations, and applicable procedures. Consider providing interactive, skills-based training to enable targets of inappropriate conduct to take action and to enable bystanders to intervene to disrupt inappropriate conduct.
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