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Published: Dec 08, 2017 7 min read
Facebook HQ Britain
Employees have lunch at the canteen at Facebook's new headquarters in central London on December 4, 2017.
Daniel Leal-Olivas—AFP/Getty Images

Facebook published its official policy on workplace sexual harassment Friday, with clearly-defined examples of bad behavior, specific steps for employees to report abuse, and how Facebook investigates these complaints.

"By sharing our policies openly, we hope to help smaller companies that may not have the resources to develop their own," a spokeswoman told Money. "Obviously these are complicated issues and we aren’t claiming to have all of the answers, but we do believe that if more companies are open about their policies, we can all learn from each other."

Like other industries marred by stories of sexual abuse and assault, set largely in motion by allegations of sexual assault by producer Harvey Weinstein, Silicon Valley is picking up the pieces of its own battered reputation.

In February, Uber employee Susan Fowler wrote a web post detailing systemic gender discrimination at the company. It went viral, and ultimately lead to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick. In June, more than two dozen female entrepreneurs spoke to the New York Times about predatory behavior from powerful venture capitalists. Nearly 80% of female tech founders have experienced sexual harassment directly, or know someone who has, according to a survey from First Round Capital.

Writing a policy won't resolve this. Last year, researchers from the University of Missouri found that even though 98% of organizations in the U.S. have a sexual harassment policy, the language used within the policies is so ineffective that employee interpretations were muddled, at best.

"Although the policy clearly focused on behaviors of sexual harassment, the participants almost universally claimed that the policy focused on perceptions of behaviors," lead researcher Debbie Dougherty writes in the Harvard Business Review. "As a result, the organization’s sexual harassment policy was perceived as both highly irrational and as targeting heterosexual male employees."

To change institutionalized abuse, organizations have to treat sexual harassment policies as more than a tool to avoid liability — and they need to trumpet the consequences.

Facebook, for its part, seems to be waking up to that.

Read Facebook's sexual harassment policy below:

Sharing Facebook’s Policy on Sexual Harassment

By Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, and Lori Goler, VP of People

Harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace are unacceptable but have been tolerated for far too long.

At Facebook, we treat any allegations of such behavior with great seriousness, and we have invested significant time and resources into developing our policies and processes. Many people have asked if we’d be willing to share our policies and training guidelines, so today we are making them available publicly—not because we think we have all the answers, but because we believe that the more companies are open about their policies, the more we can all learn from one another. These are complicated issues, and while we don’t believe any company’s enforcement or policies are perfect, we think that sharing best practices can help us all improve, especially smaller companies that may not have the resources to develop their own policies. Every company should aspire to doing the hard and continual work necessary to build a safe and respectful workplace, and we should all join together to make this happen.

You can find Facebook’s internal policies on sexual harassment and bullying on our Facebook People Practices website, along with details of our investigation process and tips and resources we have found helpful in preparing our Respectful Workplace internal trainings. You’ll see that our philosophy on harassment, discrimination, and bullying is to go above and beyond what is required by law. Our policies prohibit intimidating, offensive, and sexual conduct even when that conduct might not meet the legal standard of harassment. Even if it’s legally acceptable, it’s not the kind of behavior we want in our workplace.

In developing our policies we were guided by six basic principles:

  • First, develop training that sets the standard for respectful behavior at work, so people understand what’s expected of them right from the start. In addition to prescribing mandatory harassment training, we wrote our own unconscious bias training program at Facebook, which is also available publicly on our People Practices website
  • Second, treat all claims—and the people who voice them—with seriousness, urgency, and respect. At Facebook, we make sure to have HR business partners available to support everyone on the team, not just senior leaders.
  • Third, create an investigation process that protects employees from stigma or retaliation. Facebook has an investigations team made up of experienced HR professionals and lawyers trained to handle sensitive cases of sexual harassment and assault.
  • Fourth, follow a process that is consistently applied in every case and is viewed by employees as providing fair procedures for both victims and those accused.
  • Fifth, take swift and decisive action when it is determined that wrongdoing has occurred. We have a zero tolerance policy, and that means that when we are able to determine that harassment has occurred, those responsible are fired. Unfortunately, in some cases investigations are inconclusive and come down to one person’s word against another’s. When we don’t feel we can make a termination decision, we take other actions designed to help everyone feel safe, including changing people’s roles and reporting.
  • Sixth, make it clear that all employees are responsible for keeping the workplace safe—and anyone who is silent or looks the other way is complicit.

There’s no question that it is complicated and challenging to get this right. We are by no means perfect, and there will always be bad actors. Unlike law enforcement agencies, companies don’t have access to forensic evidence and instead have to rely on reported conversations, written evidence, and the best judgment of investigators and legal experts. What we can do is be as transparent as possible, share best practices, and learn from one another—recognizing that policies will evolve as we gain experience. We don’t have everything worked out at Facebook on these issues, but we will never stop striving to make sure we have a safe and respectful working environment for all our people.