Workplace harassment and discrimination can have significant impact on any organization’s culture, morale and overall productivity. Association executives can get out in front of these complex issues by implementing policies and regular training and by maintaining an ongoing dialogue about expectations and appropriate conduct. Failure to mitigate and properly address misconduct can result in legal liability—leading not only to costly litigation and reputational damage but also harm to your staff and culture. Follow these best practices to create a respectful and inclusive workplace environment.
- Create a comprehensive anti-harassment policy. A robust anti-harassment and antidiscrimination policy should be at the core of every organization. Membership organizations such as REALTOR® associations should have policies for both staff and member conduct. As with the National Association of REALTORS® Member Code of Conduct, the policy should clearly define what constitutes harassment and discrimination, explain reporting procedures, and outline consequences for violations. In addition, the policy should make clear that retaliation for making a complaint of discrimination or harassment will never be tolerated.
- Provide regular training. Regular training sessions help staff and management understand what harassment and discrimination look like and how to prevent both. Training should be tailored to management and non-management staff within the organization and should focus on real-world scenarios that incorporate examples of various types of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
- Establish clear reporting channels. Staffers need to know how to report harassment or discrimination without fear of retaliation. AEs can build trust in the process, by dedicating personnel for handling complaints, opening multiple avenues to report issues and ensuring supervisors understand their roles and responsibilities when it comes to reporting misconduct.
As an example, the NAR Member Code of Conduct makes it clear that all complaints of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or any other inappropriate conduct must be reported to one of the following: NAR’s general counsel, senior vice president of talent development resources or CEO. Clear direction on how to report misconduct ensures that any incident will be properly addressed.
- Promote a culture of respect and inclusion. A respectful workplace is less likely to foster harassment and discrimination. Associations should actively promote diversity, equity and inclusion by encouraging collaboration, open communication and the sharing of diverse perspectives. These values are reiterated throughout NAR policies, including its Statement of Appropriate Event Conduct.
- Implement swift and appropriate action. Once a complaint is made, it must be handled promptly and impartially. Moreover, all complaints must be taken seriously. If reasonable, a designated investigation team should be appointed to ensure fairness and thoroughness. This team could include human resource professionals, inhouse counsel or an outside investigator or outside counsel. Action taken must reflect the seriousness of the offense and be consistent with association policy or the code of conduct.
- Monitor the workplace environment. Regular surveys and informal checkins can help monitor the effectiveness of antiharassment measures and reveal areas for improvement. By keeping a finger on the pulse of the association’s culture, AEs can identify and address potential issues.
- Engage leadership. Leadership commitment is essential in setting the tone and example for appropriate behavior. AEs and managers must consistently model respectful behavior and hold themselves accountable to the same standards they expect from their team.
- Collaborate with legal experts. Employment law can be complex, and regulations may vary by jurisdiction. Collaborating with legal experts ensures that policies, procedures and actions are compliant with relevant laws.
- Focus on continuous improvement. An effective harassment and discrimination prevention program is never static. Regular reviews, updates and improvements to policies and training programs are necessary to reflect the evolving needs of the workplace and legal landscape. Associations must be committed to evolving and implementing best practices.