Should Your Handbook Include a Harassment Policy?

Blog Heading 2 (10).jpgWe recommend that a company’s human resources department implements a zero-tolerance harassment policy for the workplace. As we discussed in our last blog post on sexual harassment, employees should have clear guidelines on how to identify and report sexual harassment to the human resources department, and be encouraged to do so.

This is the third in a series of blog posts discussing sexual harassment in the workplace. Learn more about the basics of sexual harassment and the laws surrounding discrimination in the workplace.

Prepare a Sexual Harassment Policy:

Your company should have a policy to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace. It should outline the disciplinary action that will be taken if and when an accusation occurs.

This sample harassment policy can and should be edited to include company-specific guidelines on how employees should report misconduct and any other relevant information.

If your handbook does not currently have a sexual harassment policy, or you would like to make changes to the current policy, take this opportunity to revise all policies that may need updating. Instruct the human resources team to send out the revised handbook and require all employees to sign-off on the changes.

It’s good practice to send out a handbook review and request for signatures every few years, even if employees signed off on the policies during on-boarding.

Make a Policy that Educates:

Harassment negatively impacts morale and productivity. Companies of all sizes should provide mandatory harassment training every 2-3 years. Training should inform employees so they know what harassment looks like, what negative consequences will occur in the case of misconduct, and how to report it.

Hold two separate sessions for employees and for supervisors, as their role in reporting sexual harassment claims will vary.

  • A question our human resources specialists get often regarding training is, “Should I require employees to complete a quiz following training?” 

    Quizzing employees following training of any kind is not necessary. Instead, require employees to sign a form verifying they received anti-harassment training and understand their role in maintaining a safe work environment. 

    While mandating a quiz may be an extra step to ensure that the employee understood the content of the training, most employers get just as much protection by simply having the employee sign a document indicating they attended training and understand if they have questions or need clarification it is their responsibility to speak with management.

  • Another common question regarding training is, “After harassment training, will I receive a flood of claims from my employees? What will I do?” 

    In most cases, the human resources department will not receive a rush of claims following training. Providing training simply informs employees of inappropriate behavior and the process for reporting.Employees who have legitimate complaints are likely to file a complaint regardless, however providing training informs them the proper channels internally versus the employee seeking legal counsel or contacting the EEOC. The fear of a claim, unfortunately, is not a good excuse for failing to train staff. Your employees need to have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate for the workplace.

Consensual Relationship Agreements:

A relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate is absolutely a conflict of interest and should be addressed immediately.

Ideally, all supervisors and managers should have harassment training that clearly explains how inappropriate a personal or romantic relationship with a subordinate is and that it is violation of your company’s sexual harassment policy.

Remember that no one is above the law. All staff, including management, should sign off on their understanding of all company policies.

If possible, schedule training and try to get ahead of any potentially dangerous situations. Of course, if it’s too late and a relationship is already happening, management should have a conversation with both parties and look into having them both sign a document stating the relationship is consensual, but that both are still subject to the company’s harassment policy.

If supervisor and employee are in direct reporting relationship, the company should evaluate the possibility of moving one of them out of the direct reporting structure.

Assuming a transfer is reasonable and the employee’s benefits will not be affected in anyway (pay, benefits, seniority, status, etc.), document the transfer in writing and have the employee acknowledge the move is based upon their request. Generally, transferring the employee who filed a claim could be viewed as retaliatory as they’ve done nothing wrong.  Employers are instead encouraged to transfer the aggressor if keeping that person employed.

Consult an Expert:

Cornerstone’s human resources team is here to help. Contact your Cornerstone consultant for more information on how to connect with our HR team, who can provide feedback on your policies and offer guidance during tricky situations.

For more information, contact the human resources experts at cig@cornerstoneinsurancegroup.com.

Topics: HR