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Memo to Managers
Recognizing & Curbing Workplace Harassment: What it is, Where it Happens, and What to Do
The effects of harassment on employees and within an organization can be devastating. Unchecked harassment can erode trust, weaken goodwill and undermine productivity, as well as put our organization at legal and financial risk. The good news is that managers can help us maintain a positive workplace environment in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Here are four ways you can help prevent and stop harassing behavior in your organization:
1) Recognize Harassing Behavior When You See It
Harassment typically takes one of three forms:
Verbal Harassment: Sexually explicit or derogatory jokes, innuendo, name-calling, insults, comments or other verbal behavior based on a person’s race, gender, religion, national origin, or other characteristic protected by law or our policies.
Physical Harassment: Inappropriate physical conduct, including unwanted touching or gestures. While physical harassment most often is based on sex, it can relate to any protected characteristic, including religion and disability.
Visual Harassment: Any visual material, including posters, calendars, screen savers, web pages, comics, personal photos—even tattoos—that is sexually explicit or derogatory of a protected characteristic.
2) Address the Behavior Right Away
As an employer, we have a duty to protect all of our employees from harassment and discrimination. As part of that, you have a “duty to act” whenever you become aware of potential harassment—regardless of how you learn of it.
If you see or overhear behaviors that are potentially harassing, the best option is to address it right then, on the spot. You do not need to scold the person or be aggressive, but you do need to point out that their behavior is inappropriate and stop it. Then email HR to let them know what happened and how you dealt with it.
If an employee tells you about potentially harassing behavior, assure them that the matter will be taken seriously and will be kept as private as possible. Thank them for coming to you, then reach out to HR and share the employee’s concern.
If an employee asks you not to tell anyone, including HR, what they have told you, explain that you have a duty to alert HR. If they are suffering such behaviors, others might also. You can offer to keep their complaint as anonymous.
Remember, doing nothing is never an acceptable option. When in doubt, at a bare minimum, reach out to HR or the compliance team for guidance.
3) Know Where Our Policies Apply
Our anti-harassment policies apply in any work-related setting—not just at daily work sites.
Company picnics and holiday parties, client sites, conferences, and business meals all typically are “work-related settings,” so your duty to address harassing behaviors applies in those settings as well.
We are not responsible for our employees’ purely personal, non-job-related behavior (thank goodness!). However, if one employee complains that another employee has harassed him or her off the job, we should take steps to ensure that the behavior does not continue at work.
4) Lead by Example
Your behavior sets the tone for the workplace. Always be respectful and professional and your team is very likely to follow suit. If you have any doubt, before you act, ask yourself whether you would be comfortable if your behavior were recorded with a smartphone and then posted to the internet, with a link sent to our senior leadership. If not, the behavior does not belong in the workplace!
Questions of the Month
Q: A number of politicians are saying things on the campaign trail that seem like they would violate our policies if said here at work. If employees are talking politics and repeat what a politician says, is it ok?
A. It doesn’t matter that a politician said it first—if it’s sexually explicit or derogatory based on a protected characteristic, it doesn’t belong in the workplace.
Because politics are a natural topic for people to discuss at work, and because those discussions often start out appropriately but then slide into derogatory comments and negative stereotypes, you as a manager need to be vigilant and step in whenever the conversation begins to head into inappropriate territory.
Q: Our department hosted a party at local restaurant. Everyone seemed to have a good time, or so they said. As I was leaving, I saw two members of my team standing very close and talking intimately. One seemed uncomfortable with the conversation, but neither has said anything to me. Should I speak with either of them?
A. Yes. Because a department party typically is considered a “work-related setting” and because you are aware of the situation, you have a duty to determine whether the conversation was, in fact, unwelcome and related to a protected characteristic. The best way to do that is to speak with the person who appeared uncomfortable.
Let him or her know that you are concerned that what occurred may have been unwelcome and just want to check in. If he/she indicates that the conversation was unwelcome—even by saying that “it was no big deal” or “it was nothing I can’t handle”—then you may also need to speak with the other person to ensure that similar behaviors do not occur again. At a bare minimum, let HR know your concerns—don’t ignore what you saw.
Comparing internal hotline data year over year is one important way to help answer these and many other questions about your compliance program effectiveness. Use our latest hotline benchmark report to answer your toughest program questions—and reveal how you stack up against your peers.
Using Compliance Communicator
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