Does your organization have a respectful workplace policy in place? Whether it’s time to update yours or create an entirely new one, they need to create several key elements to be effective.

The funny thing about policies is that if you don’t have good policies in place or you don’t train people on them, understanding of workplace expectations can vary widely. Often, people find out it’s different than they thought when it’s too late.

Without clearly defined expectations and processes for workplace behaviour, it leaves a lot of room for uncertainty. It also means there are more opportunities for problems to arise.

Let’s say you have a harassment complaint in your organization. One of the questions an investigator asks is, “Are you aware of your company’s Respectful Workplace Policy?” There have been many times when investigating that I have heard the answer “no.”

It’s hard to hold people accountable for policies that don’t exist or when information transfer hasn’t happened.

Putting a respectful workplace policy in place is only the first step.

What should be in your respectful workplace policy?

It also needs to be well written and you must make sure that all employees, particularly those in a position of leadership, have read it, and understand it.

Your respectful workplace policy also needs to address these key elements:

Inappropriate Behavior

As hard as this is to believe, not everyone knows that telling dirty jokes in the workplace is inappropriate and offensive.

“I was just joking” is not a great defense when someone has made a group of people feel uncomfortable or created a hostile work environment.

Make sure your policy is clear on the types of behaviors that are inappropriate. These would include demeaning or belittling someone, threatening or intimidating words or actions, offensive behaviors such as rude jokes, slurs, name-calling, inappropriate gestures, etc.

Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Bullying

Harassment is all over the news these days, and people are still losing their jobs because of it (think Bill O’Reilly).

It can be an employment, as well as public relations, nightmare for your organization. It’s important to include clear definitions of what constitutes harassment, sexual harassment, workplace violence, and bullying in your policy. Provide specific examples so people know exactly what it looks like.

While you’re focused on creating your workplace policies, take a look at this post to help you figure out if your policies and procedures are up to par.

Roles and Responsibilities

It’s imperative to outline everyone’s responsibilities when it comes to a respectful workplace.

Make sure your policy outlines all of these to help everyone know what they will be held accountable for and to provide an environment that makes it safe to report unacceptable behaviour:

  1. What are an individual’s responsibilities?
  2. How about leaders?
  3. What is HR’s role?
  4. Where can people go if they are experiencing disrespect or harassment in the workplace?

Speaking of leaders, we share the mistakes and other surprising habits of leaders from the most profitable companies here.

Complaint Form

It’s a good idea to provide a Formal Harassment Complaint form in your respectful workplace policy.

This allows someone to formalize their complaint and have the details in writing.

It also serves as a starting point for HR or an external investigator (depending on the severity of the complaint). Having a solid plan in place for bullying and harassment investigations is critical to your success in addressing the complaint.

We talk more about these investigations in this post.

Complaint Process

People usually want to know what is going to happen if they make a complaint or if they are the subject of a complaint. It’s prudent to include your complaint, complaint withdrawal, and resolution processes in your policy.

It’s also important for everyone to know there may be more than one way to resolve a complaint (formal investigation and discipline isn’t always the outcome). Be sure to align this with your company’s Code of Conduct.

Once you have all the elements of a good policy, as well as a documented complaint process and complaint form, you are well on your way to having a solid Respectful Workplace policy for your organization. Be sure to build in some education and a regular review process to ensure that no one in your company says, “I didn’t know.”

Do you need help creating a respectful workplace policy?

Do you have any questions or need help with this creating your own policy? Feel free to contact us at ACTivate HR. And don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn to stay up to date on all our blogs and news!

Did you learn a lot from this post on creating a respectful workplace policy? Here are three more to check out:

Don’t Let Your Good Workplace Investigation Turn Bad
Effective Communication Techniques to Bring Your Workplace Harassment Policy to Life
Effectively Investigating Workplace Bullying and Harassment Hazards and Incidents

This article was originally published in 2017, but has been updated in 2020 just for you!