The #MeToo campaign brought the problem of harassment to the forefront of public awareness, and that has left many people wondering: what is HR’s role in controlling harassment? The real problem is preventing harassment when society itself is made up of so many different personalities and beliefs. Amid a sea of policies, many employees don’t feel comfortable bringing harassment issues to the human resources department.
HR’s role in preventing harassment includes championing the use of solid training for all employees and leaders, as well as a clear – and clearly communicated – plan for the reporting of harassment of any sort.
This strategy must also include a framework for HR or Employee Relations team members, to ensure swift action is taken to address any complaint.
As most Human Resources and Employee Relations professionals know, training can go a long way toward protecting the employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission deals with a high number of complaints of retaliation. The liability that companies face from retaliation complaints is actually much greater than what they face for a harassment complaint.
One of the top priorities in harassment cases can be separating the victim from the alleged harasser. HR’s role in controlling harassment should be to assure employees that retaliatory measures won’t be taken if they report harassment. The fear of retaliation – even unintentional retaliation – can keep a victim from speaking up. The victim may have anxiety over being fired. Or they may have to deal with other problems at work because they made a formal complaint. These retaliations can be true deterrents in creating a respectful workplace.
An estimated one in four employees are affected by sexual harassment while they are working. Experts believe that this is a low estimate because of the fear of reporting. Proper training regarding sexual harassment is one way to combat the problem of employees feeling fearful to report these actions.
Factual complaints are a key point in sexual harassment cases. HR’s role in controlling harassment is also to encourage victims of sexual harassment to come forward. When performing an investigation, HR team members must require that the complaint is based on facts.
One way that employers can encourage factual complaints is to ask that employees clearly document the incidents. Reporting harassment as soon as it occurs is also vital. HR’s role is to explain to employees exactly what they need to document. Employees should keep track of the time and date, type of action and any witnesses to the harassment. This is especially true in cases of abusive conduct or a hostile work environment.
HR’s role is to encourage witnesses to give a factual statement about the events. Speaking to them privately and ensuring them that adverse actions for factual statements won’t be initiated or tolerated.
The situation gets touchy when there aren’t any witnesses. However, HR’s role in controlling harassment is to take these complaints seriously. The more factual information the victim can provide, the easier the investigation will be on everyone.
Providing solid training on what constitutes harassment is a vital element of a defensible position for your company. Make sure your sexual harassment training is fully compliant with all current laws. Just as importantly, make it easy for employees to complete that training, repeating it as necessary to ensure compliance. Ideally, your training should be available 24-7. It should outline a specific and understandable path for complaints, questions, and other two-way communication on this topic.
Ultimately, harassment complaints are difficult for all employers as well as employees. HR’s role in controlling harassment is providing proper training for employees and leaders. They should also formulate a solid plan for handling complaints. Employers can help to make their workplace a harassment-free zone.
With exceptional training in place, HR’s role in controlling harassment can be minimized. Thus, making room for a truly respectful workplace and the company’s ongoing status as an employer of choice.
Since 1979, the Projections team has been helping companies across North America build a culture of engagement that increases productivity. In becoming an employer of choice, our clients find they have a decreased risk of third-party involvement, allowing them to focus on their company's success.