In recent months, allegations of harassment and discrimination at the CBC, the PanAm Games and at the Canadian Olympic Committee have made headlines at the expense of these organizations.

These allegations underscore the importance for businesses of all sizes to protect their employees and their reputations with well-crafted and robust anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.

These are the seven essential elements of effective and sustainable policies.

1. Concepts

There are a number of key concepts that should be clearly defined in your policies. Definitions of discrimination, harassment and prohibited grounds of discrimination should reflect the human rights codes of the legal jurisdictions that are applicable to your business. Other important concepts include:

• Workplace: The definition of workplace can extend beyond company premises and property and include any site where an employee is conducting company business and company-sponsored functions.
• Personal harassment: This can include behaviour that, while not based on prohibited grounds based on human rights codes, may be demeaning, intimidating or humiliating.
• Poisoned work environment: While not directed at any one individual certain behaviours, such as consistent slurs, profanity, demeaning posters etc., may create a work environment that is offensive.

2. Expectations

Your harassment and anti-discrimination policies should include the expectations you have for employees and the special responsibilities that you should have for management.

Employees should conduct themselves in accordance with your policies both in the workplace and while acting in any capacity for your business. You should also be clear that employees are expected to report any behaviour that they believe violates your policy. Individuals who do not report policy violations should be subject to appropriate counselling and/or discipline.

Managers in your business should understand that they have special responsibilities in addition to the responsibilities of other employees–they need to ensure that employees understand these policies and that all complaints are handled promptly in accordance with your complaint resolution process.

3. Processes

Your policies should also include a clearly documented process for reporting, investigating and resolving complaints about harassment or discrimination.

Anyone who believes that they have experienced or observed violations of policy should be able to report to their manager or directly to a human resources representative. Stress that reports should be timely and that investigations will be treated as urgent priorities.

Investigations should be conducted by well trained individuals. Once complete, the investigator, human resources, management and in many cases legal counsel should meet to decide on the appropriate resolution and communications.

Your policy should also clearly communicate that anyone who, in good faith, reports violations will be protected from reprisal or retaliation.

4. Scenarios

Consider including a question and answer (Q&A) section or a few scenarios that depict circumstances that are relevant to your operations and environment. They can help your policies come alive and facilitate understanding and appropriate behaviour

5. Jurisdictions

Every jurisdiction in Canada has laws and commissions that govern and define behaviours seen as harassment and discrimination. It is important to understand which jurisdictions apply to your business. Factors to consider include geography and business functions.

For example, your business may include functions that are provincially regulated and others that are federally regulated. Your harassment and anti-discrimination policies must be aligned with the jurisdictions in which you operate.

6. Work Groups

You must be very clear about the work groups governed by your policies. Some of these groups are obvious, some less so.

The obvious groups include permanent career or regular employees and management. Less obvious groups can include casual or part-time employees, summer students, contractors and suppliers. For example, you may have contract truck drivers on your property. These drivers and their employer should understand that they must adhere to your policies while operating on your property and interacting with your employees. You should make this clear in contracts that you sign with these businesses.

7. Communicate

Lastly, as an employer you have a responsibility to communicate your policies to all employees (of every classification), managers, contractors and suppliers. Include a module in your onboarding or orientation programs. Review and refresh your broad communications every few years. At an appropriate frequency ask every employees to acknowledge that they have read and understood your policies. As managers have special responsibilities, include focused training in your leadership development curriculum. Should it become necessary you might need to prove that you’ve delivered training so maintain attendance records.

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Well-written and communicated harassment and anti-discrimination policies will help protect your employees and your business. Act promptly and decisively if you don’t have these policies in place or if you believe your current policies are out of date.

Martin Birt is the president of HRaskme.comAfter serving seven years in the Canadian Army as a combat arms officer, he has enjoyed a thirty-five year career as a human resources manager, consultant and sought-after adviser to business executives. He can be contacted here.

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What policies do you have in place to prevent harassment and discrimination in your workplace? Let us know by commenting below.

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