Massachusetts law requires that employers have a Sexual Harassment policy and distribute that policy annually. If you don’t have a policy, now is a good time to develop one, and if you do have one, take this opportunity to check your policy to make sure it meets the state guidelines.
The Massachusetts Fair Employment law requires that employers with six or more employees promote an environment that is harassment free and have a policy that supports that environment. The law states that a Sexual Harassment policy should include:
- A statement that harassment in the workplace is unlawful and that it is illegal to retaliate against an employee who raises a harassment complaint or cooperates with a harassment investigation.
- A description and examples of what is harassment so that employees understand what is unlawful harassment;
- A statement of the remedial actions that can be imposed should it be found that harassment occurred.
- The process for filing complaints, including the name, address and number of person or persons to whom complaints can be filed.
- The state and federal agencies that handle harassment complaints, the directions how to contact them and the time frame in which to do so.
In developing your harassment policy, you’ll want to ensure that there are multiple options to an employee if they feel they’ve been harassed. The goal of the policy should be to encourage employees to keep complaints within the organization and not further escalate them by going to an outside agency. In order to achieve this, there must be different available options to an employee so that if they are uncomfortable approaching one individual they can go to someone else. The options should include both males and females from different areas of the company. These individuals should be specifically trained in how to handle a harassment complaint.
While the state only requires that the policy cover sexual harassment, this policy can be a good framework to prohibit harassment of any kind, based on any legally protected class such as age, disability, national origin, religion, race and sexual orientation. Stating the company’s stance on all forms of harassment will further enhance and environment of respect and harassment complaints will be less likely.
Once completed, employers are required to distribute their harassment policy annually. To ensure you are complying with this statutes, pick a time of the year (such as January or the beginning of your fiscal year) and distribute the policy the same time each year. Employers are also encouraged to train all employees and new hires, at the very least, on the information outlined above. This training can be incorporated into your New Hire Orientation Program or scheduled quarterly for new hires. Within their first year of gaining supervisory responsibilities, Supervisors and Managers are expected to receive additional training on their added responsibilities with respect to harassment and the steps that they can take to ensure that the appropriate actions are being taken in the event of a harassment complaint.
Being proactive with respect to harassment law, while not guaranteeing, can reduce a company’s liability down the road.