Employee Handbook Policy #502: Respectful Workplace

When I do employment law training and seminars, I solicit feedback from participants with a questionnaire.  One of the questions is what other topics are of the most interest to audience members. Recently, I’ve seen a surge of requests for employment law seminars on How to Create Employee Manuals. Because I aim to please, I’ll be conducting a seminar on the topic in October.  But, to hold you over until then, I thought readers might appreciate some posts on specific handbook policies. 

man's fists ready to fight

Given the recent movement against Jerks at Work, we get more and more requests from clients for a Respectful Workplace policy for their employee manuals.  These types of policies have significant flexibility depending on the level of the organization’s commitment to eradicating jerks in the workplace. 

Here are some pointers for crafting a Respectful Workplace Policy:

Start Here.

The golden rule for these types of policies is to start with a hard look at the values, both written and unwritten, of your organization.  The worst thing to do is to craft a policy that is totally out of line with your company’s everyday practices.

Don’t overpromise and don’t overhype the company’s commitment to a respectful workplace.  Employees aren’t fooled that easily and they’ll resent you for thinking otherwise.  If you implement a comprehensive policy, be prepared to stand by it and hold employees and management accountable.

Be Specific. 

As easy as it is to create policies in the abstract, a policy needs specifics in order to be effective or enforceable. The word, “respectful” is a start but use words with more concrete meanings.  Better yet, give examples of what is and is not considered respectful behavior. 

As a matter of course, all such policies should include anti-retaliation language that assures employees that there will be no retaliation for reporting incidents that the employee believes are in violation of the policy.

A Respectful Workplace policy often can be incorporated into an anti-harassment policy.  But if you choose to combine the two, be sure to differentiate one from the other.  In other words, harassment is illegal and will not be tolerated.  Disrespect, on the other hand, while not illegal, is destructive to the overall health of the organization and, therefore, will not be tolerated.  Be sure to separate the two.

Carry a Stick. 

Policies of any type are useless unless they include an enforcement mechanism.  Spell out what consequences there are for violations of the policy. And don’t limit yourself to disciplinary consequences.  It’s a good idea to identify the social consequences that behavior like gossiping, making snide remarks, and purposefully excluding coworkers can have on the team as a whole.

Make it a point to put responsibility on everyone with mandatory reporting.  If one coworker sees another gossiping or otherwise undermining another, make it their responsibility to report the conduct–either by going to HR or management, or by “calling out” the gossiper directly. 

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