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3 Strategies for Preventing Workplace Harassment


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are two types of illegal harassment:

  • Quid pro quo — the perpetrator (usually in a managerial or supervisory position) makes employment decisions based on whether his or her unwelcome conduct is accepted or rejected by the victim.
  • Hostile work environment — the perpetrator's unwelcome behavior results in an intimidating, offensive or hostile workplace.

As noted in a 2018 study by Hiscox, harassment is "alarmingly common." Most often, it is based on:

  1. Gender (50%).
  2. Race (17%).
  3. Religion (15%).
  4. Sexual orientation (13%).
  5. Age (13%).

By deploying the following three strategies, you can minimize occurrences of harassment in your workplace.

1. Develop a zero-tolerance policy.

This means adopting a written policy that:

  • Defines workplace harassment.
  • States that you will not tolerate any form of harassment.
  • Describes the process for filing harassment complaints.
  • States that you will immediately investigate all reported grievances.
  • States that it's illegal to retaliate against anyone who files a harassment complaint.
  • Explains the consequences of harassment.

Include the anti-harassment policy in your employee handbook, which should be given to each new hire. Get written acknowledgments from employees to show that they received the policy.

2. Train your staff, including managers, supervisors and rank-and-file employees.

A strong anti-harassment policy is your first line of defense against harassment. The next step is ensuring that the policy is understood and enforced. This can be achieved by training all employees on workplace harassment.

Note that some states have passed laws requiring or encouraging anti-harassment training. Also, when determining whether an employer is responsible for harassment of a co-worker, some state courts have examined whether the employer provided anti-harassment training. Further, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that employers should train all employees on harassment prevention "to ensure they understand their rights and responsibilities."

Industry experts recommend that employers provide anti-harassment training to all employees at least once per year. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, training for managers/supervisors and rank-and-file employees should be separate, as they need to know different things.

For instance, managers should be told how to handle inappropriate conduct and complaints as well as how to prevent liability. Rank-and-file employees should know the basics of acceptable behavior and what to do if they are victims of harassment.

3. Identify potential threats instead of waiting for complaints.

Certain jobs and employment situations have a greater risk of harassment. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, those most at risk include:

  • Tipped workers, such as those in the food service and hospitality industries.
  • Employees who work in isolated spaces, such as agricultural employees, female janitors and domestic care employees.
  • Undocumented workers or individuals with temporary work visas.
  • Women working in male-dominated jobs such as construction and engineering.
  • Workers in an environment in which there are significant power imbalances.

By identifying how vulnerable your company is to harassment, you'll be better able to prevent it.


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