Prevention Measures to Avoiding Workplace Harassment
Prevention Measures to Avoiding Workplace Harassment

The primary action that you want to take is prevention. When it comes to harassment, effective prevention measures can make a world of a difference in the workplace. While it may not be 100% effective-few things in life are-it can help decrease the impact that the potential risk factors can have in creating harassment conditions. Preventative efforts can also provide staff with the understanding of how to de-escalate situations that could trigger harassment and how to recognize discrimination and harassment early on.

This article will look at the different prevention measures that can be implemented into the workplace. They can be customized and applied to any environment, industry, and business necessary. The majority of these methods are going to be things that can be implemented by management only, although their success lies in the cooperation of all members of a business' staff. Usage of these methods are not limited to just one or one at a time, as they can be used in tandem with each other. They can be used with any existing measures that are already in place, with ones not listed here, or any that you come up with on your own. Places where there are multiple methods in place have seen significant success, as it provides more prevention coverage than just one method would.1

One thing to note: things are ever changing. The staff of a business, its environment, customer base, industry, the economy, and society as a whole. How harassment and discrimination are as well, whether it's the types, methods, or the laws associated with them. To ensure the effectiveness of any method(s) implemented, they should change along with everything else. This does not mean switch them out for something new (although you could do that, too), but check in on how things are going and make adjustments where necessary. All of the methods discussed her are flexible enough to allow alterations as they are needed. So, with that in mind, use them to their fullest extent.

  Identify Existing Issues

Before you take any action or implement anything, you want to understand what you are dealing with. While you've already learned about harassment, you may need to learn a bit about the workplace where it might occur in-including if it has already happened. Taking the time to identify any existing issues or anything that may be cause for concern can help make sure that the new changes will be able to do their job. This information can also help you figure out how harassment may occur based on the environment of a business, as different types develop under different conditions.2 To give yourself a better idea of what you're working with, consider looking for some of the following:

  •          Risk Factors-The one thing that you want to look for first are the risk factors for harassment. Things like characteristics of a harasser, existing prejudices, significant power discrepancies, anger issues, microaggressions, etc. There might be risk factors spread throughout the business or just in certain spots. They can be used as potential indicators that harassment can occur in those areas or with those people, so the information they offer can be valuable. If you find them, take note.

  •          Weak Policy Enforcement-Determining how existing policies-harassment and discrimination related or otherwise-are enforced could help figure out how effective new policies will be. Weak enforcement of existing policies may be a red flag, as any new anti-harassment policies introduced to the business might experience the same. Current policy enforcement may also be contributing towards harassment, as it can communicate to both perpetrators and victims that management doesn't care. It can also mean that there are loop-holes in the business' rules that allow for harassment to develop and grow into a serious problem; if they're not being properly enforced, then no one is noticing if they are outdated or ineffective to the current state of things. Without any changes in how policies are enforced, it's very likely that new efforts could die out very quickly.

  •          Antagonistic Behavior-Any kind of antagonistic behavior, whether it's directed at someone or just in a person's personality, could be a warning sign that things could escalate into harassment. That is, if that hasn't already happened. Like with risk factors, it could be used to identify areas-or people, in this case-that may be prone to harassing behavior. When it's a person, there's often something that triggers the antagonistic behavior and that can sometimes be identified (e.g. something in the office). If it's possible, keeping any identified triggers that incite these behaviors from people affected by them could help. For example, two employees who don't get along together and become antagonistic when around each other. Separating them when and where possible-moving them to different desks or offices, not assigning them to the same group for teamwork, etc.-could be treated as a prevention measure, so long as there's no adverse harm (e.g. you're not discriminating against one or both of them).

  •          Stress Levels-When stress levels rise, things can get a bit testy in the workplace. Studies have already proven that stress already messes with people's ability to do their jobs effectively, as well as potentially compromising workplace safety.3 Tempers tend to get shorter and people's tolerance for mistakes or errors to significantly decrease as well. The tension that can come from even one overly-stressed out employee can cause someone to snap, or just say/do something that they shouldn't. Harassment can happen in those cases as it's an unhealthy avenue to relieve stress, especially when it's directed as someone the harasser views as being responsible for the problems they are dealing with (even if they have nothing to do with what's going on). Recognizing specific causes of high stress in the workplace could also help with prevention measures
  •          Previous Incidents-If you already have instances of harassment that have been reported, then the circumstances and conditions that make harassment possible are already present. That doesn't mean that any new efforts are going to be pointless or fruitless. If anything, you just have a little more work to do in order to get things going. Those previous incidents can also provide a ton of valuable information that can be used in tackling harassment. Analysis can tell you what types of harassment have already occurred, what the circumstances were in each incident, who was involved, how it was handled, and anything that enabled it to happen in the first place. Let's say, for example, John has been sexually harassing his female colleagues by inappropriately grabbing them when they pass him in a specific hallway. You can identify that 1) John has a history of harassment, 2) the specific type and means of harassment, 3) the location, and 4) who he typically targets. Maybe there are more victims who have not come forward. Maybe there's something about that hallway that makes it easier to harass someone-e.g. it's secluded and there's no security cameras, ergo there's no witnesses to stop him. How it was handled may also tell you if there's any impact being made to curb harassment. It's all on how you interpret the information and how you apply it.


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      Create, Establish, and Enforce Policies


  • There's not much that can be done against harassment in the workplace if the workplace lacks the proper rules on how to address it. Company policies are the guidelines for how the company and its employees act and operate. So in order for the company to take action against harassment in any way, that information needs to be included in those guidelines. Those policies should include information regarding:

  •          The Company's Stance on Harassment-Not saying anything about what your position is on an issue doesn't suggest that you support it, per se, but it doesn't suggest that you're against it either. The company's stance on harassment-which is hopefully that's it's not acceptable-needs to be clearly communicated to show that it will not be tolerated. It shows that the company will be there to support those affected by harassment, that they will take claims seriously, and that officials can be trusted to address harassment to the best of their ability.

  •          Legal Information-Including the legal information regarding harassment in anti-harassment policies communicates the necessary information that people will need to identify instances and understand their legal rights in those situations. These policies should define as many forms of harassment as possible, state the laws associated with harassment, and the legal protections in place for victims.4 It should be kept as up-to-date as possible, which means making adjustments as new laws are passed.

  •          Reporting Procedures-Harassment policies should also outline information regarding any reporting procedures that may be available to victims. Again, policies establish the guidelines for conduct and anything associated with those guidelines should be included. A clear policy will outline the rules that a person needs to follow to report any harassment. Policies can also be a central location for employees to get information on what the reporting procedure is for harassment, regardless of if they are the victim or just a bystander/witness.5

  •          Possible Actions That Will Be Taken-If the policies state everything else related to harassment-the stance of the company, how to identify it, how to report it-then you need to include what the possible actions that can be taken for instances of harassment. Even outlining the options of what can happen to harassers may be enough to show the approach that the company will take in the event that harassment happens.

  •   Education and Training Efforts

    Harassment seminars are not always viewed favorably by employees. They take time away from work, people have short attention-spans, some just don't want to be there, etc. In some cases, they can just be boring-although that depends on who's leading them. However, education and training on harassment can be a valuable way of communicating information on things like policies, rights, and identifiers of harassment to employees. All of that information can be of value for prevention because it gets people involved in efforts, which is crucial for any prevention measures to work.

    There are different education programs from different sources out there, so it's not like your options are limited. Many programs will offer to send experienced experts to you to lead training and education sessions as a part of the program package. Training on harassment can usually be customized on what is needed and who the audience is (e.g. general employees, managers, etc.).6 They can also be made to be not boring and attention-getting, but without turning harassment and discrimination into a joke. Any kind of education or training can be spaced out over time and done in cooperation with schedules to avoid taking away valuable time from staff. There will be a fee, which may prove to be the only problem if there are any budgetary restrictions in the company.

      Use of a Human Resources Department

    Most companies have a Human Resources department as a part of their operations, with the exception of smaller business due to size and financial restrictions. HR representatives and staff often have the necessary knowledge regarding workplace harassment and they can be an amazing resource to help with prevention. They will often be the ones to handle any instances, maintain policies, receive claims and reports, and set up training sessions.7 Simply in terms of the information that they can provide, including what can be used for any of the methods discussed here, they can be a gold mine. A great HR team can be the best weapon in your arsenal against harassment in the workplace. When you think of it that way, it's basically a no-brainer to include them and use what they can offer to help with prevention. Not using them would be wasteful and may even be viewed as self-sabotage because they are such a valuable internal resource.

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