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Making an anti-harassment policy to protect employer and employee

Employers across the country, including here in New York, must do what they can to provide a safe workplace for all employees. This applies not only to any job hazards, but also to the treatment of workers. The workplace should be free from discrimination, retaliation and harassment.

With the growth of the #MeToo movement and more light being shed on the problem of sexual harassment in every industry, many employers may need to take another look at their anti-harassment policies. Any deficiencies in such policies could result in litigation against the employer and a hostile work environment in which employees dread coming to work because they know they face harassment from co-workers, superiors or third parties such as client or vendors and nothing is done about it.

Ways to make your anti-harassment policies stronger

You don't want your employees suffering from harassment at the hands of anyone while at work. If you have an anti-harassment policy in place, it wouldn't hurt to review it to make sure it protects your company and your employees. If you don't yet have such a policy and you have employees, you need one. In either case, your policy should reflect the following in order to help ensure it provides everyone with the appropriate protections:

  • Your policies should make it clear that they apply to any harassment, not just sexual harassment. Employees can experience harassment because of race, age or some other factor.
  • The harassing behavior should not have to be pervasive for someone to report it. If the action or behavior violates company policy, dealing with it now before it gets out of hand could prevent it from reaching the point where it violates the law.
  • The employee experiencing the harassment should feel free to come forward even if the conduct may not rise to the level of constituting a violation of the law. Allowing prohibited behavior to occur simply because it doesn't violate the law does not foster a good working environment.
  • The reporting process should allow anyone who may witness the harassment to make a complaint. It doesn't have to happen to that person for him or her to make a report.
  • You should allow an employee to report harassment to more than one person. Designating only one person to whom reports can be made just invites disaster since that person could be the perpetrator.
  • The harassment does not have to occur only in the workplace for it to require action from the employer. Any prohibited behavior between co-workers, between employees and superiors or between employees and third parties such as clients, suppliers or vendors applies even if it does not happen at the workplace.
  • Your policy should vehemently protect the complaining party from retaliation of all forms. Retaliation could range from ostracizing the person to attempting to fire the person and a variety of behaviors and actions in between.
  • Your policy should outline swift and strong corrective action for a substantiated harassment claim.

Getting your company's anti-harassment policy right could take some work. In order to help ensure that it provides a clear vehicle for victims to make their complaints, know they will be heard and taken seriously, and perpetrators will receive the appropriate form of corrective action, you may want to work with an employment law attorney.

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