Creating a Harassment-Free Workplace

July 10, 2020
Jen Farthing

One of the most frequent questions we're asked is: What's the best way to ensure our workplace is harassment-free?


The answer is straightforward. Workplace sexual harassment prevention starts with creating strong policies that include clear, well-communicated procedures for how to report incidents and organizational justice.


You also need to ensure that your entire workforce is informed about what sexual harassment is, so they are all aware of what is and isn't appropriate workplace behavior. Many may think they already know, but your entire workforce needs to be in sync on what actually constitutes sexual harassment:


  • Proposing a sexual act for professional benefit
  • Making remarks about someone’s body
  • Touching someone inappropriately
  • Saying someone’s work isn’t as good because of their gender
  • Indecent exposure
  • Pornography, sexist or sexually explicit jokes and stories
  • Remarking or discriminating against someone due to their sexual orientation
  • Behavior resulting in a hostile work environment or adverse employment decisions


Next, encourage zero tolerance. A zero-tolerance policy means any form of sexual harassment will not be tolerated and must be reported. The reporting procedures you develop must give victims a way to be heard and believed. Your company's actions and reactions to reports of sexual harassment will earn trust over time as employees gain confidence in your policies and procedures.


Although Human Resources and other leaders in your company will take charge when a sexual harassment concern is raised, managers on the front lines are often the first to learn about sexual harassment issues. You need to provide managers with training targeted at building the skills they need to handle these conversations with their teams.


Knowing the right time and place to ask questions or initiate discussions with employees about sexual harassment concerns is difficult even for seasoned supervisors. But it’s important. Team members need to know and trust they can come to you and others within the company with concerns. They need to be listened to and have their concerns validated.


Here are some simple Listen and Lead guidelines for managers:

  • Be an example. Never be disrespectful or degrade another person at work. And if you see something, say something.
  • Be approachable. Sexual harassment is difficult to talk about, particularly for victims. Have an open-door policy—let your employees know you’re available if a concern should ever arise.
  • Take appropriate action. If an employee comes to you with a concern, know what to do and take appropriate and swift action so he or she knows you heard them and took their concerns seriously.


Remember, you have the P.O.W.E.R. to foster a climate of no tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace:


PROVIDE a safe space and ample time to listen and respond to employee allegations and concerns.

OBSERVE the office climate and culture, noting how tone is maintained and intervening if/when it is not.

WARNING SIGNS – be mindful of verbal and nonverbal cues, don’t interrupt or rationalize inappropriate behavior.

ENSURE that your behavior is an exemplar and model a zero-tolerance stance.

RESPOND swiftly, clearly, and definitively with words, actions, and reporting consistent with company policy.

For more resources on creating a harassment-free workplace, visit our content hub.

About the Author

Jen Farthing

Chief Learning Officer at LRN

More Content by Jen Farthing

Most Recent Posts

Taking Measure of the Moment: The E&C Pulse

Taking Measure of the Moment: The E&C Pulse

COVID-19 has forced organizations to think about their purpose, and how can they fulfill that purpose in a way that meets the moment.

Learn More
Business Groups Oppose White House Order on Diversity Training

Business Groups Oppose White House Order on Diversity Training

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than 150 business and nonprofit groups say the executive order created confusion and undermined workplace equity.

Learn More
Setting a Board Strategy for E&C: The E&C Pulse

Setting a Board Strategy for E&C: The E&C Pulse

For all the talk about E&C, most boardrooms still don’t have a strategy to serve as the foundation for their oversight of the function.

Learn More