5 Tips for Preventing Harassment in the Office
Since Americans are spending more time at work, it is more important than ever to help ourselves and others enjoy the office environment and feel safe and secure in the workplace. Per a Gallup poll, the average American adult works around 47 hours per week. However, going to work can feel like an absolute nightmare if your company has a problem with harassment. In addition to being terrible for the individual(s) being harassed, it’s a huge problem for the company and can results in lawsuits, lost productivity, and lost profits. All of this can be solved by preventing harassment in the office, which you can do by understanding the signs and training your employees or fellow co-workers.
So how can you work to deter harassment in the office? First, let’s define harassment.
Harassment is defined as “verbal or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of that person’s (or that person’s relatives’, friends’, or associates’) race, skin color, religion, gender, national orientation, [sexual orientation], age, or disability…” It can also include written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion to any of those protected groups. If you’d like to read a more comprehensive list, this article is an excellent resource.
Now, let’s talk about deterring and preventing harassment in the office.
Adopt a clear harassment policy
If your company doesn’t currently have a policy, work with your executives to come up with a clear and detailed harassment policy. It’s in their best interest to have a clear policy that is easily accessible to all employees. In the policy, make sure you define harassment and that your company will not tolerate any harassment. The policy should have direct steps to follow to report harassment and file complaints. It should also be made clear in the policy that retaliation against anyone who files complaints about harassment will not be tolerated. It should also be clear in the policy that the harasser will be disciplined or fired if necessary.
Train employees, including supervisors and/or managers
Harassment training should be conducted regularly (at least every 1-2 years) to make sure that all employees—new or veterans—are clear on what is expected of them and what they can do if harassment occurs.
Keep your eyes and ears open
If you’re an executive assistant, you often have a finger on the pulse of the organization. You and other supervisors can be the first line of defense and you should not be afraid to get out among your co-workers and look for signs of issues. Do you see offensive screen savers, posters, or notes? Did you hear Jim in accounting call his female counterpart a sexist slur? You can stop problems before they become full-blown harassment. Keep the lines of communication open and report if you do encounter anything offensive
Take complaints seriously
In companies where complaints are treated lightly, it can be difficult for team members to work up the courage to report harassment. Much like bullying, it can cause a lot of anxiety, depression, and fear. Your company should have a zero-tolerance policy and should make the victim feel safe. Your company should have a solid HR team/individual who doesn’t brush off the complaint as over-sensitivity. Especially when it comes to sexual harassment, the individual may feel ashamed. If someone cries out to you no matter what position you hold, take them seriously and encourage them to report to the appropriate party. You can also report harassment even if you’re not the one being harassed.
Quickly investigate any claim and discipline the harasser
Handling the claim quickly ensures minimal disruption to the victim and company and ensures that everything is fresh on the minds of anyone involved. It shows that you take the complaint/claim seriously and you want to correct it appropriately.
If the complaint is substantiated, take appropriate disciplinary action. In some circumstances, discipline may not be appropriate and those circumstances should be documented carefully in the employee’s personal file. In some cases, it may have simply been a misunderstanding. Even in misunderstandings though, the “harasser” should be educated to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.
We hope these tips give you some ideas on preventing harassment in the office. We encourage you to research harassment laws in your state and work with your co-workers to create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone.