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Policies and collective agreements on violence and harassment

Last edited: July 08, 2020

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Workplace policies and collective agreements are important ways to set out and monitor commitments to tackle violence and harassment against women at work. Setting out commitments, monitoring mechanisms and complaints procedures sends a strong message that violence and harassment will not be tolerated and enables world of work actors to spell out the behaviours that are unacceptable and their disciplinary consequences. This can help reinforce the importance of gender equality and behaviour change.

Workplace policies can adopt a number of approaches. Some policies may directly address the issue, paying particular attention to certain forms of violence and harassment or certain groups that are more exposed, including women. Others may address violence and harassment in the context of broader workplace policies.

  • A gender equality/sex discrimination approach can address violence and harassment against women through policies on gender equality and non-discrimination, with a particular focus on sexual harassment and/or gender-based violence.
  • A broader equality/non-discrimination approach may include gender as one of multiple grounds of discrimination when tackling discrimination-related harassment.
  • A dignity and wellbeing at work approach focused on health, safety and wellbeing at work covering all workers can include gender-based violence and harassment.

An example of integrated guidance to end violence against women at work

Our Watch Australia Workplace Equality and Respect Standards – changing norms and practices to end violence against women at work[1]

Changing norms and practices is one of the three priorities of the Workplace Equality and Respect (WER) Standards developed by Our Watch Australia, covering all forms of violence at work and domestic violence. The Standards aim to ensure that all staff are held accountable for promoting a culture of gender equality and in ensuring women’s career progression and leadership roles. A further key issue is to challenge gender stereotypes across the organization and build support for change, as well as implementing effective systems to respond promptly to complaints of violence and sexual harassment. The WER Standards have the objective to “guide the way power, resources and decision-making is shared between women and men at work.”

A key role is given to having a long-term approach to changing organizational culture and to implementing a process of continual improvement. The Workplace Equality and Respect Standards address three areas where change can be implemented - leadership, strategy, and norms and practices – and consist of:

“Standard 1: We are committed to preventing violence against women and have structures, strategies and policies that explicitly promote gender equality.

Standard 2: We embed gender equality in our recruitment, remuneration and promotion processes and men and women utilise flexible work options, without penalty.

Standard 3: All staff feel safe and confident to express themselves, and gender stereotypes, roles and norms are actively challenged in the workplace. Staff can raise concerns about gender inequality and potential discrimination without adverse consequences.

Standard 4: We have the structures, practices and culture to ensure an appropriate response to staff and external stakeholders who experience violence, bullying and sexual harassment.

Standard 5: We demonstrate our commitment to gender equality and the prevention of violence against women in all our work and interactions with stakeholders.”

The Standards represent a package of tools and resources based on evidence and good practice. Recognizing that no workplaces are the same, the standards do not provide a prescriptive programme, but rather provide flexible and adaptable guidance to prevent violence against women.

Regardless of a policy’s focus, it is important that it:  has a gender-lens; clearly sets out the procedures for making and handling complaints; includes a role for worker representatives; and provides for training and awareness-raising about the policy, including its implementation. It is important to move beyond mere compliance with the law (with the aim just to avoid litigation) to ensuring that policies and procedures foster real changes in organizational culture.  It is also important to enhance transparency and accountability, in order to encourage reporting and implementing fair systems for complaints handling.

Promising practices in collective agreements and policies and procedures include the following elements:

  • Prohibiting violence and harassment with a clear and comprehensive definition, including physical, verbal, non-verbal and sexual forms of violence and harassment against women that is understood by everyone;
  • Ensuring strong endorsement and ongoing commitment by leaders and senior managers, by launching the policy and issuing a zero-tolerance statement regarding violence and harassment against women; regularly referring to the policy and holding staff meetings about the policy; and modelling respectful and non-discriminatory behaviour and values;
  • Establishing a working environment free from violence and harassment, promoting a culture of respect that values women and men equally; regularly consulting staff about their safety concerns and implementing practical measures, such as removing pornographic or sexually-explicit materials and creating well-lit work areas;
  • Establishing a workplace committee composed of employers’ and workers’ representatives, tasked with monitoring the implementation of the policy; overseeing training programmes and complaints processes/investigations;
  • Establishing transparent and non-discriminatory recruitment and promotion procedures, by establishing gender-balanced selection committees; ensuring appropriate interview questions; eliminating opportunities for quid pro quo sexual harassment during the recruitment process;
  • Setting out clear and accessible complaints procedures,[2] by ensuring confidentiality of complaints, including by third parties; ensuring a victim’s informed consent to move forward with any process, and taking their views into consideration when an employer takes a decision to engage a formal reporting process; setting out, and ensuring understanding of, informal and formal procedures; and implementing specific timeframes to ensure timely and diligent resolution;
  • Allowing for confidential and anonymous reporting systems, including for whistleblowers and witnesses, for example, through online reporting;
  • Ensuring transparency on how reports of sexual harassment are handled and reported, while taking account of the need for confidentiality;
  • Avoiding nondisclosure agreements, as well as contract clauses on forced arbitration, in order to empower the victim and ensure accountability of perpetrators;
  • Providing protection, support and remedial measures for the victim, including counselling and line-manager support; providing, where appropriate, compensation for material and non-material damages and reinstatement.

For a detailed list and explanation of core elements of effective sexual harassment policy and procedure policy developed by Professor Catherine MacKinnon, see pages 8-9: http://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2018/towards-an-end-to-sexual-harassment-en.pdf?la=en&vs=4236

Workplace Policies and Codes of Conduct on Sexual Harassment at Work

The Vietnam Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, and Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, 2015)

The Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace was drawn up in 2015 by the Ministry of Labour, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, with the support of the ILO. Currently implemented in 20 enterprises, the Code recommends the “development, implementation and monitoring of a workplace policy on sexual harassment to promote safe and healthy workplaces, where all workers, irrespective of sex or status, are treated with fairness, dignity and respect” ((Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, and Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, 2015, p.3). It applies to all companies in the public and private sector and covers all locations “where work-related business may be conducted” (Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, and Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, 2015, p.4), including work-related social activities, conferences, training sessions, business travel and business meals, as well as work-related telephone conversations and communications through electronic media. The Code also provides an evidence-based sample workplace policy.

Code of Conduct and Guidelines to Prevent and Address Sexual Harassment in Workplaces, Employers Federation of Ceylon, 2013 (Employers Federation of Ceylon and ILO, 2013)

This Code of Conduct by an employers’ organization aims to help achieve safe and respectful workplaces. The document gives advice to organizations and companies about what they can do to prevent sexual harassment and the actions they can take in the workplace, including redress through informal and formal procedures.

CARE International – Enhancing Women’s Voice to Stop Sexual Harassment (STOP) project[3]

The STOP project develops a sexual harassment prevention workplace package, including a model workplace policy and training materials, to address sexual harassment in the garment sector in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. CARE’s research in Cambodia suggests that sexual harassment results in lost productivity and profit amounting to USD$89 million per year. 

The template Workplace Sexual Harassment Policy for Garment Factories in Cambodia can be used in a variety of workplace settings and aims to:

  • Create a working environment where all employees are treated with dignity, courtesy and respect;
  • Promote appropriate standards of conduct;
  • Implement training and awareness-raising strategies to ensure employees know their rights and responsibilities;
  • Provide confidential procedures for complaints, with guarantees of protection for those who report sexual harassment;
  • Encourage reporting of sexual harassment.

The Training Toolkit “Sexual Harassment Stops Here” contains diverse interactive training materials, such as videos and games, with the key message of “listen, support, report”.



[1] The Workplace Equality and Respect (WER) Standards and suite of tools and resources can be found at https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Workplace-Equality-and-Respect-Hub/Home.

[2] More detailed information about effective complaints procedures can be found in Section 4 below

[3] For further information about the STOP project and related measures and tools: www.care.org/stop

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