Harassment and discrimination issues are flooding the news. What we do not hear as much about, however, is the massive impact harassment in the workplace can have on businesses.
Businesses compete for both employees and customers. Each expects you to have ethical workplaces that treat people with respect. Employees have options, and they are no longer willing to work in organizations that allow harassment, discrimination or bullying. Moreover, customers are fleeing from companies and brands that are associated with harassment and discrimination suits.
As a leader, you must take steps today to ensure your working place is harassment-free for the sake of your employee’s and your business’ future. Here are six steps to get you on the right path.
6 Steps to Help Stop Harassment in the Workplace
1. Define Harassment
Businesses often go to the definition of harassment from the equal employment opportunity commission. That is not enough. Your harassment definition should include other definitions as protected by law. It should also include a common-sense approach that regardless of the law, we treat each other with care and respect.
Be sure to let employees know that any behavior that makes them uncomfortable is reason to raise a concern.
2. Encourage Conversation
The first line of defense is giving all employees permission to tell others, regardless of place in the organization, that they just aren’t comfortable. If an employee is not comfortable vocalizing their concern, they should speak with a supervisor, human resources or any member of leadership.
In this step, we want to encourage all employees to come forward. The issue may not rise to the level of harassment, but only by starting the conversation can your organization determine what the best steps are.
3. Have a Formal Reporting Process
There needs to be a formal, approachable way for employees to file a complaint. In the past month, many have heard about the process in the US Congress for filing a harassment complaint. Your organization cannot have a 90-day process before someone gets help.
Ensure that you designate in your company a group of people employees can speak with, who are at various levels in the organization and of both genders. Make the policy easy to access and solution oriented.
4. Train Managers and Employees
We know from multiple Supreme Court cases that it is the responsibility of every business to explain what harassment is and how to file a complaint. The next step is training managers on the steps to take once a complaint is made.
Managers MUST understand that any conversation is a complaint and they are obligated to act. The training can be 60 -90 minutes, but to be effective, live training with conversation, policy review and discussion of situations should be included.
5. Investigate All Claims
All claims must be investigated in a timely manner appropriate to the complaint. That does not mean you have to drop everything, but you should be ready with a process that will look into the issue at hand.
Talk to all parties involved and ask for both sides of the story. Most importantly observe the actual workplace.
Often there is a situation that can be difficult to know who is right, but a reasonable solution can often be an apology and agreement that the behavior is unacceptable and won’t occur in the future. For more serious complaints, the solution may be disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Your investigation should always end with a resolution and a conversation with the complainant to let them know you have taken action.
6. Lead by Example
The most critical step in stopping harassment in the workplace is to ensure that your senior leadership team is treating every member of the team with respect always. These individuals often set the culture of the company and must be held as the example for all.
Consider if comments that seem inappropriate are made in closed-door meetings, what might really be going on with your staff. Hold managers and leaders to a higher standard and be clear that disrespectful behavior is never tolerated.
Harassment in the workplace must be monitored at all times. Managers are responsible to keep their eyes and ears open to ensure a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. While bullying may not be illegal today, it is unacceptable in the workplace and will often lead to behaviors that are illegal.
As a leader, you are obligated to provide a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination. To do this, you must ensure that your team is trained, policies are followed and your line in the sand is clear.
Most importantly, when it comes to harassment, walk the walk and talk the talk!
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