HRM Five: Guarding against workplace harassment

How to promote a workplace culture that's harassment-free.
By: | January 21, 2018

HRM Five offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.


With the wave of sexual harassment claims and firings that began in 2017 likely to continue in 2018 and beyond, the time is ripe for businesses to ensure that they have the relevant policies and procedures in place to nurture a harassment-free workplace — and guard themselves from any potential issues.

Laura Corvo, a partner in the Labor and Employment team of US law firm LeClairRyan, suggests five anti-harassment resolutions that companies can adopt to best protect their workers, and themselves:


  1. Reviewing your existing policies
    Companies with existing written policies should review and update them to reflect issues like text messaging, social media, other forms of electronic communications, and harassment that takes place off-premises, she advises. Written policies should also be periodically distributed to employees, to help ensure that they are aware of the policies and to hammer home that the company takes the policy seriously.
  2. Educate your employees
    Train employees on what the written policies say and how your company expects employees to conduct themselves in the workplace.”Supervisors, managers and executives need to receive special harassment training,” says Corvo. “They not only need to know how to conduct themselves in the workplace, they also need to know how to enforce the policies.”
  3. Investigate all complaints (even those that may appear groundless)
    Given today’s environment, there is a strong chance your company will receive at least one complaint of workplace harassment in 2018,” says Corvo. Failure to investigate all complaints “is likely to hurt the company, even if it’s defending against a meritless claim.”The way in which an investigation is handled can be critical, she adds. “Workplace harassment investigations are often complex, so they should typically be performed by human resource professionals who are trained to
    conduct such investigation. Or they should be done by or with the assistance of legal counsel.”
  4. Be aware
    According to Corvo, the 2017 harassment horror stories followed two common patterns:”First, the boards of directors and the executives feigned shock and ignorance when the faces of their brands were accused of egregious sexual misconduct and harassment. Second, each complaint of bad behavior was followed by another, and then another.”So, any rumblings should be investigated, she counsels. Even something as seemingly innocuous as an inappropriate joke or an inappropriate glance should be followed up, she adds.
  5. Be committed
    Everyone from the top of the organisation downwards needs to be committed to a harassment-free workplace, and to exhibit behavior that that is consistent with that commitment. The people at the top must be on their best behavior and set the tone for everyone else in the organization.”That means they can’t tell inappropriate jokes, even if people laugh at them. They can’t use slurs, epithets or other inappropriate language, even if employees don’t seem to mind when they do. And, if you have a problem at the top of your organization, you must address it,” says Corvo.


The backlash over workplace harassment started snowballing in 2017 and is still playing out. “But, if you start by taking a hard look at your efforts to prevent harassment and adopt these resolutions, you could be on your way to a harassment-free 2018,” Corvo concludes.