Harassment Prevention in the Workplace

By Emily Franchi

The #MeToo, Time's Up, and It's On Us movements are continuing with full momentum, keeping harassment prevention in the forefront. Zero tolerance is the new norm, meaning employers are having their feet held to the fire to ensure employees are interacting respectfully and professionally. Thus far, 32 states have adopted various state-specific versions of harassment prevention laws with New York and California leading the charge in adopting laws that require the most from employers, small and large. These laws are robust and can include training requirements, policy revisions, investigation protocols, and penalties, among other provisions.

It is only a matter of time before other states fall in line with their own state-specific requirements. CAMICO is advising CPA firms to take the time now to review their own firm policies and practices and to adopt stringent protocols that are at least compliant with their state requirements. Be advised, however, that a firm policy is only effective if the firm practice supports the policy and management "walks the talk" and leads by example.

Many firms are looking to professionals in the human resources field to advise on policy language, compliance, record keeping, and training. CAMICO is seeing a positive trend with firms being proactive and demonstrating due diligence in creating a safe work environment. While some states have state-specific requirements, a few of the general must-haves in an anti-harassment policy are:
  1. A carefully drafted statement showing the firm’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace.
  2. The definition of those covered by the policy (employees, management, interns, staff working at a client location, etc.).
  3. Avenues for employees to report inappropriate behavior or concerns. Ideally, there should be more than one avenue for reporting issues.
  4. An outline of the investigation process, including timelines and expectations.
  5. A confidentiality statement indicating the need for all involved parties to maintain confidentiality to the extent possible.
  6. An anti-retaliation statement.
A well-drafted anti-harassment policy sets the tone for a firm, and employee training shows the intent and commitment of management. Training should be carefully thought out and not only satisfy any state-specific requirements, but also provide relatable content that makes sense for the intended audience. CAMICO advises against using a generic training template, as it may not resonate with the firm’s employees. A template or standard training plan can serve as a guide for creating customized training, but it is important that thought be given to the culture of the firm to create examples that are relevant and content that reflects the dynamics of the firm. For example, a video clip of a construction worker whistling at a passerby would not resonate with an employee of a firm as much as a scenario showing two office workers interacting.

Reduced risk comes from good practices and good intentions reflected in a well-documented policy that is reinforced by the actions of management. Firm management should work with a human resources professional or an employment attorney to:
  • review firm practices and behaviors,
  • ensure that practices and behaviors are in line with the firm's policy,
  • ensure that the firm’s policy is in line with state requirements,
  • create or revise policies and training, and
  • ensure best practices.
Harassment prevention is a dynamic topic, and the laws are constantly evolving. To reduce the potential for a claim or lawsuit, CAMICO recommends having a human resources professional review your firm policy and procedures to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

CAMICO makes available to firms that have an Employment Practices Liability insurance policy with CAMICO:
  • unlimited telephone and email human resources consulting services and resources, and
  • online resources, HR management policies, procedures and forms, employee handbooks, and educational opportunities on HR topics.
Emily Franchi is a Loss Prevention Specialist for Employment Practices with CAMICO (www.camico.com). She provides CAMICO firms that have Employment Practices Liability coverage with support on a variety of human resources management issues, focusing on employee relations and legislative compliance for the workplace. Franchi works with firms to reduce exposure to potential employment practices claims, and she provides education and assistance in creating professional work environments.

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