The prevention of workplace harassment for nonprofit organizations is a popular topic amongst organizations today. The fall-out for nonprofit organizations is greater than for-profit organizations if harassment takes place. Even what may seem like a minor incident can result in a nonprofit organization losing major donor dollars, constituent support and valuable employees, as well as donations. Organizations should not only prepare on how to handle cases of workplace harassment if and when they take place, but work on how to prevent cases happening in the first place. This could be done by having a specific policy in place that meets the nonprofit organization’s state requirements.

What Is harassment?

Sexual harassment seems to be the center of attention of workplace harassment when the topic arises but, workplace harassment covers much more. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as a form of employment discrimination and as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” State laws may broaden that definition.
ABC news and the Washington Post provided data which stated that, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men report experiencing sexual harassment in the U.S. workplace. Yet, only 25 to 33 percent of those who have been harassed at their place of work report it. Even if your nonprofit organization may not seem to have any cases of workplace harassment it is possible that members of your organization have experienced harassment and done nothing to report it because they are nervous to speak up or feel unable too. Volunteers and board members also have a right to sue a nonprofit if they’ve experienced harassment while working with the organization.

There are several simple tasks to create a healthy and positive workplace where harassment is not perpetrated, tolerated or ignored.

  • Identify your nonprofit organization’s values and follow to them.
  • Create a clear policy about what is and what is not accepted in the workplace.
  • Put harassment reporting systems in place for staff, volunteers and board members.
  • Train your staff and volunteers on harassment prevention and bystander intervention.
  • Document all state mandatory training session for managers and staff.

  • Every nonprofit (even those with only volunteers) should have a written policy against harassment. Your nonprofit can customize the policy as appropriate, but at a minimum the policy should:

  • Define harassment – include the definition from the applicable state law(s);
  • Express “zero tolerance” for harassment;
  • Commit to a statement that those who violate the policy will be disciplined, up to and including termination of employment;
  • Explain the process for filing a complaint in clear terms, including identifying the persons to whom complaints should be directed;
  • Commit to a statement that the nonprofit will take all complaints seriously and fully investigate any complaint;
  • Also express “zero tolerance” for retaliation against anyone who complains about harassment.

  • A toxic company culture can lead to high turnover and low morale among employees, and often ultimately leads to disruption of business. A culture that stresses both respect and accountability is one of the best preventative shields for harassment of any type. Supervisors and co-workers who sincerely respect one another will ask before touching one another; will not use verbally demeaning or offensive language with, or about, one another; and will think twice before sending a co-worker into a situation that may expose the colleague to a hostile work environment.

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