The Right Way to Prevent Workplace Discrimination and Harassment

by Mike O'Neill

If you’re on the front lines of your company’s discrimination and harassment policy, then you know it can appear in many forms. And nobody is immune to it, and it can involve every level of staff, from new employees to upper management.

I’ve been involved in every aspect of these policies for manufacturing HR teams for many years, so I’ve learned that once you’re investigating an allegation, you’re already behind. Discrimination and harassment need to be prevented from happening in the first place.

Why Good Policy Matters

In the past decade, the Me Too movement has raised awareness of rampant discrimination in the workplace and the devastating consequences of unchecked prevention policies. 

If you’re dealing with a discrimination or harassment issue with an employee, take action immediately to ensure your policy is effective, fair, and comprehensive. They may have already hired a lawyer that is in the process of reviewing the allegation and your company’s policy.

Because of today’s climate, the need for a solid prevention policy is more crucial now than ever. Your job is to create a policy without any gray areas; specificity and fairness are the keys to clearing up any confusion or exclusion your employees might feel. 

There's no longer any room for the kind of treatment that was passable years ago. And unfortunately, these toxic mindsets that breed discrimination won’t be going away anytime soon. So be proactive.

When evaluating your company’s policy, follow the steps I’ve laid out below. It will guarantee a foolproof and comprehensive system that will benefit you in many ways.

Steps to Maintaining a Safe Workplace

Step #1 - Start at the top

A company’s approach to preventing harassment and discrimination hinges on senior leadership’s commitment to that prevention. 

When you start at the top, you’re making it very clear to your employees that harassment and discrimination are absolutely prohibited. 

If they see that you’re serious about preventing and managing it, they’ll be more aware of their workplace environment, fellow employees, and their own behavior.

This is why starting at the top is so important. As the population grows, more and more people are falling into protected class categories like minority groups, which means there’s an increased opportunity for claims to be made. 

Your role as a leader becomes that much more important as the number of employees in these protected classes grows. It’s your responsibility to adapt to the changing population by expanding your protection and prevention to include them all. 

Great company leaders challenge themselves and their higher-ups to be the standard bearers for anti-discrimination and harassment in the workplace. You can do this by completing the rest of the steps on this list.

Step #2 - Be specific

Now that your employees know how serious you are about preventing harassment and discrimination show them exactly what that looks like. 

There should be no gray areas when training your employees on this matter. Give them specific examples of situations where harassment or discrimination is present. They should know exactly what to do when a situation arises. There should be no room for misinterpretation or ignorance.

For example, when an employee is experiencing derogatory jokes by another employee, their identification of harassment should be easy. You’ve already shown them what these situations look like, so there’s no uncertainty in determining if it’s truly discriminatory when the time comes. They’ll be confident that they’ve recognized it correctly.

On top of that, your employees should know exactly what to do when they witness or experience these issues. Harassment or discrimination procedures and policies should be detailed and in plain sight. 

Some of these exact guidelines and procedures you need to provide are:

  • What the protected classifications are
  • How to identify harassment or discrimination
  • Who to report it to
  • How to report it
  • What to expect from the process
  • How long will the process take

Where can your employees find this workplace harassment and discrimination information? Is it on a website or in a handbook? No matter its location, it needs to be extremely accessible to your employees so they can reference it easily and as often as they need to. 

Specific instructions and accessible resources will give them the tools to identify what harassment and discrimination look like, complete the procedures for handling them, and know what to expect going forward.

Step #3 - Be fair

A workplace that successfully prevents harassment and discrimination does so by treating every employee with fairness and honesty. 

Your job as a leader is to provide a safe place for your employees to work. You can do this by creating a fair anti-harassment and discrimination policy that applies to every level of your company. 

Mid and upper-management should not be exempt from this prevention policy because it creates an unfair balance that opens the door to more issues. Allegations made on the plant floor should be handled the same as in the corporate office. 

This might even involve a senior manager, so employees need to see that you’re handling it fairly, no matter who it is. In a safe and fair workplace, everyone receives the same protection from harassment and discrimination no matter where they are in the organization. Your employees will feel confident knowing that you care about their well-being just as much as your management team.

Being safe and fair goes beyond just implementing all-inclusive discrimination and harassment prevention procedures. It also depends on your attitude.

Fair business leaders regularly practice empathy, sincerity, and self-evaluation. They don’t pick favorites, are sincere with their words, and always set a good example. They avoid bias at all costs.

In a discrimination and harassment setting, fair bosses practice empathy by understanding the variety of different opinions and groups within their company. They are mindful of those who may be vulnerable to these attacks and listen earnestly when allegations are brought to their attention. When they do speak, they’re sincere and honest about the situation and how you’ll manage it.

They also regularly evaluate themselves because they recognize that improvement is necessary in order to lead employees toward a safer and fairer workplace. 

They don’t play favorites. Good leaders see the importance of every employee regardless of position or performance, so they treat everyone the same. No one feels like they’re getting preferential or unfair treatment when a fair boss is in charge.

Having a fair boss means always having a good example to follow. When you’re teaching your employees how to handle discrimination and harassment, they’ll learn easier and participate more earnestly if they see you using your teachings in action.

In conclusion, the most important thing about being fair is making sure employees feel safe to report with confidence without backlash—they need to know they won’t be harassed further or dismissed when they come forward with concerns. 

When you’re fair, your employees feel safe. When they feel safe, they won’t be afraid to report. This opens the door to increased awareness, a vital component of successful anti-discrimination and harassment policies.

Step #4 - Be aware

Awareness is the key to improvement. This means self-evaluation, of course, but it’s also being aware of how your company handles discrimination and harassment. In order to prevent these issues, awareness should become a key part of your company’s culture.

By regularly meeting with your HR team , you can stay in the loop on how they’re dealing with these cases and the task of prevention. 

You should also be consulting with your employees about your policy. Ask questions like:

  • Do you know what harassment and discrimination look like?
  • Would you feel safe and confident reporting workplace harassment or discrimination?
  • Do you feel safe working here?
  • Are you being treated fairly here?
  • How would you improve the way we prevent and handle these issues?

Asking these questions ensures that you maintain an effective anti-discrimination and harassment policy while giving suggestions on how to improve it. It also develops trust between you and your employees, and they will respond positively and follow policies more easily, knowing that you care about their opinions and safety.

To sum up, an excellent anti-discrimination and harassment policy creates a sense of awareness and an environment where these issues rarely come up because employees know you’re keeping an eye out for them and handling them swiftly when they arise.

Step #5 - Be consistent

In manufacturing, physical safety is routinely trained and retrained to keep employees up to date. It’s the top priority for the plant floor. 

Providing a safe environment also means ensuring safety from other threats, like mental and physical harassment from other employees. You can accomplish this the same way as procedural safety through consistent training.

Teaching your managers and employees about your anti-discrimination and harassment policy should not be a one-and-done process. The policy itself should adapt over time to changing work environments, and the training should occur every time there’s a change. 

As a general rule, retrain your employees on your anti-discrimination and harassment policy at least once a year and every time you update it. 

The ongoing training of managers and regular employees should be just as specific as the first time you rolled out the new policy. Make sure they still know exactly what discrimination and harassment look like and the exact procedures to respond with. They should be just as knowledgeable about the policy as they are about every other safety procedure. 

Onboarding training should also be consistent and thorough. Your new employees should be just as knowledgeable of the current policy as their co-workers. Update onboarding training every time you update your policy to keep it consistent. 

To maintain your comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment policy, make consistency your top priority. This means consistent fairness and awareness when adapting or implementing your prevention policy.

The bottom line—when you handle incidents, do it the same way every time to avoid bias. Fairly, mindfully, thoroughly. Operate with zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment. No exceptions.

Benefits of a Preventative Discrimination and Harassment Policy

With a sound preventative policy, manufacturing managers can ensure every level of safety for their employees.

They also ensure safety for themselves. By making the identification of and procedure for discrimination crystal clear, managers discourage employees from committing offenses. This prevents legal issues, distrustful employees, and unsafe work environments.

When you have a good prevention policy, you can expect the following benefits:

  • Less or no legal exposure
  • Saved time from fewer investigations
  • Happier and more productive employees
  • Safer employees, especially those part of protected groups
  • Decreased turnover
  • Higher-quality candidate pool
  • Increased collaboration and cooperation

Moving Forward

If you remember anything, remember that you have the crucial responsibility to create an anti-discrimination and harassment policy that keeps these issues from happening in the first place. 

It’s not something to be taken lightly, either. Today’s climate is elevating the importance of inclusivity and fairness, especially in the workplace, so it’s your job to make sure you or your team is properly investigating claims, training employees, and implementing effective prevention methods. 

The goal is to make it so hard to discriminate that it never happens. Safety and harmony is the goal of any great boss, so make it a priority. It may not be possible, but the closer you get, the happier and safer everyone will be. 

If you’re ready to create a bombproof anti-discrimination and harassment policy, you’re in the right place. Bench Builders offers a practical, hands-on workshop to give our participants ideas of exactly what we’re talking about, what to do when you see certain behaviors, and how to implement a stellar policy.

It’s always the right time to make your company safer, so don’t waste any more time being vulnerable to liability, unsafe environments, or unhappy employees.

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