Joking around at work can be a fun way to build camaraderie within teams and help lighten the mood. But what can you do if it crosses the line? Workplace harassment is no joke. It brings down morale, decreases productivity, and can open an organization up to major liability. It’s not a rare problem, either. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, over a quarter of employees report that they’ve been subject to abusive behavior while at work. And the majority of bullies are bosses.
Abusive behavior includes sexual harassment, unwarranted criticism, social isolation, spreading rumors, and gossip. None of it should be tolerated. Here are four steps you can take to prevent harassment in your workplace.
1. Establish a Written Anti-Harassment Policy and a System for Reporting It
Include a section on workplace harassment in your employee handbook. The written policy should state clearly that your company has zero tolerance for any type of harassment. It should convey exactly what behaviors constitute harassment, what steps employees should take to report harassment, and what disciplinary actions will apply in the event that harassment has taken place.
Your employees need to feel comfortable and free to report harassment when it happens, whether the harassment comes from a peer or from a supervisor. And they need to know that their concerns will be addressed timely and professionally.
2. Investigate Complaints Immediately
No matter what else is happening in your company, harassment is a top priority to any harassed employees, and it needs to be a top priority for you, the employer. Investigate any reports immediately, documenting as you go. Talk to the relevant parties. If you determine that harassment did occur, then discipline the harassing employee consistent with your policy. Make sure you document this conversation as well, noting the disciplinary steps taken and their resolution.
3. Train Everyone on Harassment Prevention
A few states, like California, require managers to attend harassment prevention training. Given the confusion some people have about what crosses the line into abusive behavior, it would be a good idea to train everyone at your company on identifying and prohibiting workplace harassment. The more you can do to create a safe and open environment, the less harassment-related liability you’ll have.
4. Foster Community as Part of Your Company Culture
Finally, to counteract a culture in which harassment is tolerated or overlooked, create a culture where comradery and respect is encouraged and celebrated.