Creating a Zero Tolerance Harassment Policy

An important part of preventing harassment claims and protecting your business is a written policy stating that harassment will not be tolerated. Remember, too, that your state may require you to have a sexual harassment policy. Any harassment policy should contain:

Business Tools

If you'd rather not create your own policy, the Business Tools area contains a sample sexual harassment policy that you can use for your business.

Definition of harassment. As with other complex policies, it is important to define exactly what type of conduct it is that is unacceptable and prohibited. Being clear not only helps you enforce the policy, but helps employees understand what your expectations are.

Here are a couple of simple examples of clauses that define harassment:

Sample 1: Harassment. Harassment is verbal or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of that person's race, skin color, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability. Harassment can also occur if conduct is directed toward a person's relatives, friends, or associates. Harassment does one or more of the following:

  1. has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment
  2. has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance
  3. otherwise adversely affects an individual's employment opportunities

Sample 2: Harassment. Harassing conduct includes:

  1. epithets, slurs, negative stereotyping or threatening, intimidating, or hostile acts that relate to race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability (including jokes or pranks that are hostile or demeaning with regard to race, color, religion, gender national origin, age, or disability) and
  2. written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability and that is displayed on walls, bulletin boards, or other locations or circulated in the workplace.

Prohibition statement. While it seems obvious enough, your policy should clearly explain that harassment of any kind is unacceptable behavior in your workplace. Here's an example of a clause that does just that:

Sample: Sexual harassment is specifically prohibited because it is unlawful and against company policy. In addition, ABC Company is responsible for taking action against sexual harassing conduct. ABC will take action regardless of whether the specific acts complained of were sanctioned or specifically forbidden, and whether ABC Company knew or should have known of their occurrence.

Complaint procedures. In addition to defining and prohibiting the behavior, be sure to tell employees how to make a complaint and what they can expect once they have filed a complaint.

You may want to include the time frame in which the complaint will be investigated and stress that the matter will be handled professionally and confidentially.

Some sample clauses are:

Sample 1: Employees who have complaints should report such conduct to the owneror other official. Allegations of harassment will be promptly investigated, giving due regard to the need for confidentiality. Sample 2: If you think you are being harassed, report the behavior to the owner. All such complaints will be treated in the strictest confidence and will be promptly investigated.

Disciplinary measures. Be sure to spell out what the consequences for harassment will be if an employee is found to have engaged in such contact. Also refer them to your progressive discipline policy, if you have one.

Here are some examples of a disciplinary clause:

Sample 1: Any employee who engages in harassing behavior is subject to disciplinary measures up to, and including, termination. Sample 2: Any harassing conduct will result in prompt and certain disciplinary action, including possible termination.

Protection against retaliation. When an employee actually gets the nerve up to report harassment, they are usually already apprehensive and scared because of the hostile treatment they may have received. The employees need to know that you are there to help. For this reason you may want to include a clause indicating that employees will not be penalized or reprimanded for reporting harassment.

Not only will this help employees, but it may actually get them to report harassment before it gets worse or more dangerous.

Here's a sample of such a clause:

Sample: An employee has the legal right at any time to raise the issue of sexual harassment without fear of reprisal.