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Developing an anti-harassment policy

This past year, Modern Tribe has continued to grow rapidly. What started as a partnership between two guys in Santa Cruz has grown into a team of more than 50 people bringing a wide range of global perspectives to the table. As we’ve grown, so has the list of considerations for how we operate. Many employment laws and regulations kick in once a business hits a certain size. One such regulation that Modern Tribe faced in recent months was the requirement for a company anti-harassment policy. I bet you found this because you need to do the same! Go ahead and grab our anti-harassment policy as a template to make your own.

A new year brings new responsibilities

In mid-March, we received an email that caught our attention: a set of amendments to California employment law were kicking in on April 1, it said, impacting all companies based in the Golden State with 5 or more employees. As a team of 52 (35 contractors and 17 employees), we knew Modern Tribe needed to be in compliance. But since we don’t have a dedicated HR team we were on our own to craft a policy that struck a balance between:
  • Ensuring everyone on our team felt comfortable in our remote workplace and knew what steps to take if they didn’t;
  • Carrying the voice/tone of our culture; and
  • Bringing us into compliance with California’s amended anti-harassment regulations.
It was March 14. The new policy was going into effect April 1…less than 3 weeks later. Needless to say, we’re glad we opened that email.

Crafting the policy

At the start of 2016, we rolled out an employee handbook for all full-timers. This thing is massive…50 pages of goodness covering how we work, what employees can expect from Modern Tribe and what the company expects from employees. I used that handbook as a baseline: it had a vague section about our policy towards abuse, which I copied into a blank Google Doc. Why start from scratch if you don’t have to? Next it was time to hit the law blogs. Since the final text of the updated law was presented in a 90 page document laden with legalese, I needed help making sense of it. Turns out when a new regulation is going into effect, lawyers like to talk about it amongst themselves online. (Who’d have thought?) I did some reading and came away what we needed to know. Namely:
  1. That the policy had to be in writing.
  2. It had to list categories covered by the updated regulations as well as a handful of specific stipulations regarding team member safeguards.
  3. It needed to include a documented complaint mechanism that all employees could use if they felt they’ve been harassed.
  4. It must be distributed to all existing team members and any who join from here forward. Everybody has to sign a written acknowledgment confirming they received it.
  5. It had to include an accompanying brochure, DFEH-185, which is actually meant to be folded up as a physical brochure and looks rather comical when viewed on a computer screen.
Armed with that information, I took a couple hours to write a first draft. It included a proposed complaint process we could run internally that ensured everyone’s privacy, guaranteed a quick response from management and didn’t require a ton of overhead to setup or maintain. A few rounds of feedback from the leadership team later, and after taking some time to build an internal checklist for directors to use when investigating complaints, the document was done and packaged into a PDF. It included both our written policy on the “official” Modern Tribe letterhead, and the required DFEH-185 brochure. There’s an art to striking a balance between a friendly tone and saying what the government requires you to say. While I’m not sure our finished product struck that balance perfectly – the text still feels pretty darn “corporate” to me – this is an area we’ll keep hammering on as we face more compliance issues in the future.

Rolling the policy out

But creating the anti-harassment policy didn’t mean we were totally finished: it still needed to be rolled out to the team, who had to acknowledge they’d read and understood it. Rolling the document out at Modern Tribe involved these steps:
  1. Configure the document for signatures. We use Bamboo HR to manage signature collection, although there are a number of companies offering similar services.
  2. Set up a tracking spreadsheet. Using a simple spreadsheet with a row for each team member and some conditional logic, I set up a tool for tracking who had signed the doc. Here is a template you can use as a starting point. I included the following columns, which allowed me to easily keep track of what I still needed from which people:
    1. Sent. Add an “X” when this team member has been sent the harassment policy for review.
    2. Signed. Add an “X” when the team member has signed the harassment policy acknowledgment + ops has reviewed to confirm it’s valid.
    3. In Bamboo? Add an “X” when ops has confirmed the signed document is properly tracked in this team member’s Bamboo HR profile, and is labeled properly.
    4. In Dropbox? Add an “X” when ops has confirmed the signed document is stored in our backups folder on Dropbox.
  3. Give the team a heads up. It might be jarring for team members to receive a signature request about a harassment document they know nothing about. So I crafted up a quick summary in plain English with a lot of bold + bulleted lists to keep it scannable, and posted as an @channel announcement to the whole team on Slack. This gave everyone an understanding of why we had this policy, what we needed from them, when we needed it and who to contact if they had questions or concerns before signing.
  4. Ensure future team members are covered. The finished policy was rolled back into the employee handbook, so that all full-timers who join going forward will see and acknowledge it during their onboarding handbook review. For new contractors, meanwhile, we’ve added a task to our massive onboarding checklist that ensures they get an overview of the harassment policy + a signature request on day one.
From there the process was largely on auto-pilot. Team members were sent their signature requests and, as we moved closer to April 1, I kept updating the spreadsheet until there were no team members who hadn’t signed. We got everything done by the day the regulations officially kicked in. Our mission had been a success!

Check out our anti-harassment policy

We’ve made Modern Tribe’s anti-harassment policy publicly available for anyone interested. Feel free to use it as a template for your own policy guidelines. If you have questions or ideas on how it could be improved, we welcome those in the comments below.

Compliance in 2016 (and beyond)

The next big TO DO for us on the harassment front? Developing a sexual harassment training program, which is just around the corner given our current growth path. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg as Modern Tribe grows bigger. Compliance for remote, distributed companies is a funny thing. You sometimes get the sense that the law hasn’t caught up to even acknowledge this business model exists yet. It will be interesting to see what changes come down in this area over the next few years and the impacts they will have. As for Modern Tribe…we’ll be tackling a lot of “new-to-us” compliance issues in 2016 and 2017, and will be sure to share what we’ve learned.

Developing an anti-harassment policy

Navigating the dark waters of compliance