In the past year, many people have asked why #MeToo victims haven’t reported harassment. We can’t know the answer to this question for every individual, but for some it may have been due to the fact that while there was an Anti-Harassment policy there wasn’t an internal complaint procedure in place.

Create a positive workplace

First and foremost, make respect a part of your culture and use it as a basis for everything that you and your team do daily. Next, empower your employees! Make sure that they know that they are empowered to speak up if something happens that that they feel is inappropriate or that makes them uncomfortable, whether it’s directed at them or someone else.

Empower employees to take steps to stop the unwanted behavior immediately! If they are comfortable and feel safe doing so, employees should address the situation in a polite but appropriately assertive manner by telling the other person how they are feeling. Tell employees to use “I” messages (“I feel uncomfortable when…”) and focus on the behavior, not the person’s character or personality.

Establish a procedure

Everyone is different and personal experiences may play a role in how each person handles the circumstances that they are presented with. During stressful times or in times of crisis, employees may not be thinking as clearly as they normally would. In this case, having a  complaint procedure can help guide them through the process.

Decide how much information to include. Remember that each issue raised by an employee will vary so the way you handle it may vary as well.  When a complaint is received, management should immediately review it and determine how to proceed.

To start, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that at a bare minimum, employers should encourage employees to report harassment to management before it becomes severe or pervasive.  As you create a procedure, be sure to designate more than one individual to take complaints and ensure that these individuals are in accessible locations. Employers also should instruct all supervisors to report complaints of harassment via proper channels.

As part of the complaint procedure, also indicate:

  • The methods by which an employee can submit concerns or a complaint. Encourage employees to start with their manager, if appropriate, but make sure they know they are not required to start there, especially if the complaint concerns conduct by the employee’s manager.
  • The importance of coming forward with a concern, even if the specific topic of the complaint is not explicitly covered by your written policies.
  • The commitment that complaints will be handled confidentiality, to the extent possible.
  • The expectation that employees participate fully in company investigations.
  • The option to request review by another member of the management team if they do not feel the outcome was fair.

Regardless of the level of detail in your complaint procedure, it is a good idea to include information that reassures employees that when necessary, a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation will be conducted. Inform employees about the company’s anti-retaliation policy, which ensures that they can raise concerns without fear of reprisal.

What to include in your harassment complaint procedure

Once you have created your procedure, communicate it to your team and train them on the specifics. Make sure that everyone is  aware of their obligations and where they can get assistance if they need it. Most importantly, remember to follow protocol outlined in your procedure. This will help prevent potential discrimination claims, ensure employees are treated fairly and decrease your liability if you end up in court,

As you’re working to prevent harassment in your workplace, refer to the additional insights and tips here. Our consultant team has experience with needs related  to anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures.  Whether it’s implementation of a new policy and procedure or revisions to existing harassment prevention programs, we provide this support as part of our monthly HR Services plans.

For organizations that want to do all they can to limit harassment in the workplace, ensure all concerns are handled fairly, consistently and simply keep the lines of communication open, having a complaint procedure in place is an important way to ensure all employees have a voice.