If you want proof of the importance of an effective sexual harassment policy, just look at the numbers. A survey from Opportunity Now found that 64 percent of women have experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace. Payments from harassment and discrimination settlements cost American businesses more than $372 million in 2013. And surveys have estimated that up to 66 percent of employees of most organizations are unaware of their company’s harassment policies.

Creating clear and thorough policies on sexual harassment is the main way to create a positive work environment and protect your organization. Here are a few of the key aspects of effective sexual harassment policies:

A definition and examples

Generally, there are two kinds of sexual harassment, and an effective policy should cover both. The first, “quid pro quo” harassment, involves an employer asking an employee for a sexual favor in exchange for a promotion or benefit. The second, “hostile work environment,” is where things get trickier. This type of harassment can include sexual jokes, unwelcome sexual advances or inappropriate comments or actions. This kind of harassment can be subtle, and employees may not be aware that they are making their co-workers feel uncomfortable or unsafe, so it’s essential to provide definitions in the policies. It’s also helpful to include examples of behavior and emphasize that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.

A clear process for reporting and investigating claims

In the case that sexual harassment does occur, the victim must know that their complaint will be taken seriously, that their identity will be protected, and that they won’t be punished for reporting. The policy should include clear instructions on how to report, and provide options for who the victim can report to, especially in the case that the harassment comes from their immediate supervisor. It should state that every complaint will be thoroughly investigated, and possibly name an outside consultant to bring in to ensure that the investigation will remain impartial.

Steps for following through

An effective sexual harassment policy lays out what will happen if the investigation reveals that harassment has occurred. The policy should include measures to determine a fitting punishment—which may be anything from termination, to a probation period, to mediation, depending on the severity of the offense.


Even the best sexual harassment policy means nothing if employees don’t know about it. Use a policy management software to ensure that every leader, supervisor and employee reads and signs off on the organization’s sexual harassment policy. Conduct regular awareness seminars to train employees on what behavior could be considered inappropriate, and how to file a complaint in the case of harassment. Most of all, emphasize each employee’s responsibility to create a respectful, healthy work environment.

A good sexual harassment policy can help prevent incidents of harassment, make your organization a place where employees feel safe and comfortable, and keep your company running smoothly.

Policy Development Guide