The following is an internal policy developed by Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). We welcome other organizations to use it in part or whole; they must simply credit ACE with the following language: “[This policy was/Parts of this policy were] shared by ACE in order to promote safe and respectful communications as we advocate for animals.”
ACE recognizes everyone’s inherent worth and is committed to providing a professional and safe work environment free from discrimination, bullying and non-sexual harassment, sexual and gender-related harassment, other inappropriate conduct, and retaliation (summarized as “discrimination and harassment” throughout the rest of this policy).
Discrimination and harassment can have significant negative effects on the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of the individuals experiencing these harmful behaviors and may also affect the wellbeing of bystanders witnessing these harmful behaviors. In addition to their insidious effects on individuals, discrimination and harassment also harm team morale; the overall culture, productivity, and long-term sustainability of the organization; and, ultimately, our ability to carry out our organizational mission and impact animals.
We have therefore developed this policy to demonstrate our commitment to complying with all non-discrimination and anti-harassment laws in all of the countries in which we operate and to create an organizational culture in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
People to Whom This Policy Applies
This policy, prohibiting discrimination and harassment, applies to all ACE employees, interns, select contractors, and board members (hereafter referred to as “ACE Team Members”). ACE Team Members are expected to implement this policy in relation to each other and “ACE Clients” (advisory board members, donors, partners, consultants, vendors, volunteers, supporters, and all other parties with whom we may interact on business grounds).
ACE Clients are not bound by the policy as they are largely external and outside of ACE’s direct purview, but if an ACE Client not subject to this policy is found to have acted inappropriately with an ACE Team Member, ACE will address the situation with the same gravity as internal matters and proceed in the manner most reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances.
Every ACE Team Member is responsible for contributing to a positive work environment and maintaining a professional and respectful workplace.
As such, all ACE Team Members who become aware of discrimination or harassment in the workplace (further defined below in “Policy Scope”)—even if they are not directly involved—are expected to report it to a lead, one of the three specially-trained “designated people” (further defined below in “Designated People”), or the Executive Director. It is then the responsibility of the party receiving the claim to address the situation seriously and with prompt attention, intervening as necessary.
This policy addresses the conduct of ACE Team Members in the workplace. “The workplace” is defined as any place where work-related activities occur, including physical work premises (though at the moment, ACE operates remotely), work-related meetings, work-related conferences, work-related training sessions, work-related travel, work-related social functions, and work-related electronic communication (such as email, chat, text, phone calls, and virtual meetings). The workplace includes any of the aforementioned activities in any of the countries ACE Team Members regularly work, as well as any countries they may visit on behalf of work.
ACE will provide this policy to ACE Team Members at the time of their onboarding, thereafter on an annual basis, and as otherwise legally required. They will be asked to sign a document indicating that they have read and understood the policy. It is the responsibility of each lead to ensure the people they oversee understand this policy in full.
In addition, ACE will provide formal training to ACE employees at the time of their onboarding and as otherwise legally required. Training will meet all necessary legal requirements and may be administered in a classroom setting, through interactive e-learning, or through a live webinar.
This policy was developed with the intention to foster a safe and respectful workplace. As ACE grows and learns, this policy may be periodically adapted to strengthen this commitment. If changes are made, ACE Team Members will be duly informed and then asked to read and sign a document confirming their understanding of the policy again. Updates to this policy will be made by the Managing Director, and any questions may be brought to their attention.
ACE has selected three employees to act as “designated people.” “Designated people” have completed specialized training and are therefore qualified to receive discrimination or harassment claims. They also have access to an external expert support system as needed.
ACE’s “designated people” are:
- Jaya Bhumitra, Managing Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Gina Stuessy, Director of Operations, email@example.com
- Sydne Daniels, Digital Content Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
ACE explicitly prohibits discrimination, bullying and non-sexual harassment, sexual and gender-related harassment, other inappropriate conduct, and retaliation, as described below, and according to the local, state, and national laws in each of the countries in which we operate.
Discrimination is the differential treatment of or hostility toward an individual on the basis of certain characteristics (called “protected classes” in some countries), such as race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender or gender expression, sexual orientation, pregnancy or parental status, marital status, national origin, citizenship, amnesty, veteran status, age, ability, genetic information, or any other factor that is legislatively protected in the country in which the individual works.
ACE extends its definition of discrimination to include the differential treatment of or hostility toward anyone based on any characteristics outside of one’s professional qualifications—such as socioeconomic status, body size, dietary preferences, political views or affiliation, or other belief- or identity-based expression—and prohibits discrimination on these grounds as well.
Discrimination on the basis of “protected classes” or other legislatively prohibited grounds is illegal when it influences decisions such as hiring, firing, layoffs, compensation, benefits, promotions, advancement opportunities, or other terms or conditions of employment.
Bullying and Non-Sexual Harassment
Non-sexual harassment (from here on out “harassment”) refers to unwelcome conduct—including physical, verbal, and nonverbal behaviors—that upsets, demeans, humiliates, intimidates, or threatens an individual or group. Harassment may occur in one incident or many, and if these behaviors become habitual and have hostile intent, then they are described as bullying.
Bullying and harassment have the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual’s work performance, adversely affecting an individual’s employment opportunities, and denying an individual’s dignity and respect. Harassment is illegal when the conduct is related to certain characteristics (in some countries described as “protected classes”), when enduring the conduct becomes a condition of employment, or the conduct is so severe or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Examples of bullying and harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Verbal aggression or yelling
- Spreading malicious rumors
- Epithets, slurs, or negative stereotyping
- Humiliation in front of colleagues, such as subjecting one to practical jokes or ridicule
- Offensive jokes or comments about a person’s ability, age, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics that undermine the person’s role
- The display or distribution of material showing hostility or aversion toward an individual or group in the workplace, on organization time, or using the organization’s equipment
- The exercising of, attempt to exercise, or threat to exercise physical force against an employee in the workplace that causes or could cause physical injury to the employee
Bullying and harassment can be the manifestation of power relationships, and while they often occur by an individual having power over another, they can also occur between two or more people regardless of whether or not they are in a position of power. ACE encourages everyone to be conscious of power dynamics, but especially those most susceptible to experiencing them, such as managers with direct reports or philanthropy staff and donors.
Sexual and Gender-Related Harassment
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances; requests for sexual favors; and other physical, verbal, and nonverbal behaviors of a sexual nature when (i) submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; (ii) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the targeted individual; or (iii) such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Sexual harassment may include both subtle and not-so-subtle behaviors and may involve individuals of the same or different genders, or those who don’t identify with a specific gender. Sexual harassment is inappropriate and illegal in many countries.
Harassing conduct based on gender is often, but not always, sexual in nature. For example, a manager’s discipline of people of a particular gender identity could also constitute discrimination if such behavior is the result of that manager’s biases. Another example is gender policing, defined as engaging in physical, verbal, or nonverbal harassment of an individual based on their gender identity or expression. Repeatedly misgendering someone could also constitute harassment.
In addition, actions that are typically only socially acceptable for people of certain genders, such as “roughhousing,” male-on-male rowdiness, or phrases such as “Hey, man” are exclusionary and can reinforce sexist norms. While ACE does not classify such behaviors as sexual or gender-related harassment, ACE encourages its staff to recognize and minimize these actions and help each other to do so as well.
Examples of sexual and gender-related harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Unwelcome physical contact, including touching, patting, pinching, grabbing, stroking, kissing, hugging, or brushing against another’s body
- Whistling, leering, or other sexually-suggestive gestures
- Stories, teasing, jokes, or innuendo with a sexual tone
- The sending of sexually explicit messages or display of sexually explicit material
- Comments about one’s body, sexual activity, sexual prowess, or sexual deficiencies
- Unwanted flirtations, sexual advances, or propositions for dates
- Pressure for sexual activity or the use of threats or rewards to solicit sexual favors
- Insults based on one’s sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, or gender expression
- Gender policing
- Repeatedly misgendering someone
- Physical violence, including sexual assault
ACE recognizes that sexual and gender-related harassment can be the manifestation of power relationships, and while they often occur by an individual having power over another, they can occur between two or more people regardless of their sex, gender identity, or gender expression and whether or not they are in a position of power.
For guidelines during business travel, please refer to the ACE Travel Policy.
Other Inappropriate Conduct
Other inappropriate conduct is described as disrespectful or disruptive behavior, such as repeatedly interrupting colleagues during conversations or meetings, disregarding others’ opinions, taking credit for others’ work, cruelly chastising or mocking others, using inflammatory language with the intention to intimidate or make others uncomfortable, speaking in elevated tones, and otherwise acting in a manner that harms others or the work.
Retaliation against an individual or individuals for reporting discrimination or harassment, for participating in an investigation of a claim, or for being otherwise associated with a claim is a serious violation and, like discrimination and harassment, will be subject to disciplinary action.
Retaliation may take the form of bullying and harassment, creating a hostile work environment, ostracizing or excluding the individuals involved from regular business matters, making material changes to the terms and conditions of the individuals’ employment, firing the individuals, or otherwise punishing the individual or individuals via other means.
Retaliation will not be tolerated by any party at any level. Retaliatory acts should be swiftly reported to any lead, one of the three “designated people,” or the Executive Director. Retaliation claims will be taken as seriously as discrimination and harassment claims and promptly addressed.
Note that deliberately false accusations are a serious matter which will result in disciplinary action and which are differentiated from retaliation because of the intent of the accuser. However, an unproven allegation does not mean that the conduct did not occur or that there was a deliberately false allegation—it may simply mean that there was not enough evidence to determine the veracity of the claim or proceed further at that time.
Whenever possible, ACE encourages individuals who have been subjected to or have witnessed discrimination and harassment to promptly and clearly advise the alleged offender that their behavior is unwelcome and request that it stop.
However, if one doesn’t feel comfortable approaching the alleged offender, if the alleged offender continues the behavior even after being asked to stop, or the behavior constitutes a serious offense, the situation must rise to the attention of ACE leadership.
Making a Claim
While ACE has not established a fixed reporting period, ACE encourages the prompt reporting of any claims of discrimination or harassment so that they can be addressed rapidly. All allegations of discrimination or harassment will be taken seriously and attended to promptly.
ACE prohibits retaliation against any claimant bringing forward a sincere claim.
Anyone bringing a claim has the option to do so with any lead, one of the three “designated people,” or the Executive Director (though if the claim is brought to someone other than one of the “designated people,” then the recipient of the claim is responsible for informing the “designated people” who are in charge of record-keeping, as described later). Individuals are not required to file their claim with their direct manager before bringing the matter to a lead, a “designated person,” or the Executive Director.
ACE requires a qualified external party (such as a discrimination and harassment specialist, human resources professional, or lawyer) to investigate claims:
- Against the organization’s Executive Director, leads, “designated people,” or board members (i.e., the parties who may be directing or have oversight over investigations)
- Where the parties overseeing the investigation would have a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest (e.g., the “designated person” receiving the claim is close friends with either the claimant or the alleged offender) and the investigation cannot be reassigned to other internal parties without a conflict of interest
The lead, “designated person” or Executive Director overseeing the matter will then work with the claimant to gather as many details as possible, including the date, time, descriptions of the incident(s), and witnesses, if any. ACE encourages people to record all perceived incidents of discrimination and harassment as they occur, no matter how small, as such records are helpful for providing context during later inquiries and/or investigations.
The lead, “designated person,” or Executive Director will then—in consultation with another lead, “designated person,” or the Executive Director (if they are not already participating)—determine the best way to resolve the matter and implement next steps as necessary. This consultation step is intended to provide a form of checks and balances during the decision-making process as a resolution is sought.
Next steps may include taking immediate corrective action (described further in “DISCIPLINE”), proceeding with a formal investigation, or dismissing the claim if there is insufficient evidence to proceed at that time. The lead or “designated person” will attempt to achieve an outcome satisfactory to the person bringing the claim and most appropriate for the situation.
During the course of an investigation, ACE may implement interim measures as necessary. Measures may include temporarily reassigning or placing the alleged offender on leave until the outcome of the investigation is determined. If the alleged offender is found in violation of this policy, they will face disciplinary action (described further in “DISCIPLINE”).
Confidentiality and Record-Keeping
Discrimination and harassment claims will be kept as confidential as reasonably possible. Some information may need to be shared by the person who has received the claim during the course of an inquiry or investigation, particularly during the consultation phase with another lead, “designated person,” or the Executive Director.
If the person bringing the claim specifically asks for their claim to be kept hidden from certain parties, the lead, “designated person,” or Executive Director overseeing the matter will do their best to honor that request, provided it does not compromise the safety of the individual or other individuals or the legal compliance or integrity of the organization.
Records will be kept in a confidential file under the purview of the three “designated people” (unless there is a conflict of interest with one of those parties in which case the other will keep a private file for that particular claim). One board representative will also have access to this file to increase oversight and accountability.
Records will not be filed under individual personnel records but rather in a file totaling all discrimination and harassment claims as a method of identifying patterns of behavior by alleged offenders. Records will also be kept for reference as needed in potential legal matters pursued by the individuals involved or the organization.
ACE does not ask or require complainants to enter into non-disclosure agreements in regard to any claims and resulting investigations of discrimination, bullying and non-sexual harassment, sexual and gender-related harassment, other inappropriate conduct, or retaliation.
If an ACE Team Member is found to be in violation of this policy—whether affecting another ACE Team Member or an ACE Client—they will face disciplinary action. While no policy can prescribe what should be done on every occasion because circumstances vary, disciplinary actions will be determined regardless of one’s title or position and may include a referral to counseling, mandatory training, a verbal or written warning, a written reprimand, the withholding of a promotion or a pay increase, a reduction in wages, demotion, reassignment, suspension without pay, termination, or other consequences.
Similarly, deliberately false accusations are equally serious and will also result in disciplinary action. However, an unproven allegation does not mean that the conduct did not occur or that there was a deliberately false allegation—it may simply mean that there was not enough evidence to determine the veracity of the claim or proceed further at that time.
Offenses by Non-ACE Parties
If the alleged offender is not an ACE Team Member subject to this policy, but rather an ACE client or another party, ACE will address the situation with the same gravity as internal matters and proceed in the manner most reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can we speak about politics in the workplace? Politics might arise in conversation as we get to know each other’s views or discuss current affairs.
ACE does not intend to regulate political discussions but encourages people to use their best judgment in conversation and exercise respectful communication when holding political discourse.
ACE’s policy only states: “ACE extends its definition of discrimination to include the differential treatment of or hostility toward anyone based on any characteristics outside of one’s professional qualifications, such as socioeconomic status, body size, dietary preferences, political views or affiliation, or other belief- or identity-based expression, and prohibits discrimination on these grounds as well.”
The goal of this statement is not to prohibit conversation about politics, which would be difficult to enforce and perhaps not even in the best interest of our work. For example, it may be relevant to discuss how current or new federal or state policies help or harm animals, or we may be evaluating a charity for its impact on legislative efforts or assessing legislative efforts as an intervention. Discussions around politics may even benefit our work by allowing us to engage in critical thinking, and as one colleague nicely stated, they may “expand our moral circle and contribute to creating a safe work culture.”
Rather, what the policy intends is to be protective and avoid discrimination—so, for example, we couldn’t terminate someone for voting for one presidential candidate if leadership happened to prefer another.
That said, politics—as well as religion—can be sensitive topics, particularly in some cultures. When discussing politics, religion, or other controversial topics with your colleagues, please be respectful in your communications, use good judgment, and be mindful of cultural sensitivity.
2. How can we ensure leadership treats every situation in an equitable manner? This can be a challenge even if there are good intentions and multiple people involved for accountability. Similar situations could be defined differently based on framing, inconsistent justifications, or a dismissal of precedence in how policy has been enforced in the past.
While it’s rare that there is uniformity in the circumstances that surround these types of issues, the designated people, leads, and Executive Director (ED) will communicate to each other (during the weekly leads meeting, or sooner, if necessary) when a claim has been brought and how it will be handled so everyone in leadership is aware. This will help us act consistently across different claims.
The policy outlines that at least two people (selected from the designated people, leads, and ED) should be involved in the decision-making around handling the claim, which is meant to help with accountability—so we can avoid one person acting too harshly or leniently. However, we will also make sure that all leadership is aware of any claims and formally record what steps were taken in each situation so that there is as much accountability as possible and written precedence to follow.
Finally, as outlined in the policy, one of the board members will be given access to our record-keeping so there is an additional layer of oversight of our processes.
3. How will we handle confusion in discussions among those in leadership around what has happened and how to think about it? What if some in leadership decide a situation has been dealt with even though the initial concern/problem hasn’t yet been addressed?
Per the answer just above, claims will be brought to the attention of all leadership (leads and ED) even if only two parties are primarily responsible for handling the claim (in fact, more than two people may be brought in to oversee an investigation; two is merely the minimum).
In the inevitable discussion that will arise among leadership when a claim is brought forth, we should hear a variety of viewpoints on each situation. This will allow us to broaden our thinking and handle each claim with the utmost diligence and careful consideration.
If a staff member feels that the designated person, lead, or ED to whom they brought the claim has not dealt with the underlying issue even after determining the matter resolved, the staff member can raise the complaint again with another party (a different designated person, lead, or ED than the one with whom they initially raised the complaint) or reach out to the board.
4. When situations have been handled inconsistently or other mistakes have been made, will they be openly acknowledged? How can we increase internal transparency? Will there be a way for us to identify lessons learned from each scenario?
Bearing in mind that many of these situations will involve sensitive details and that we have an equal obligation to protect an employee’s privacy and personnel records, we will do our best to acknowledge if the organization has misstepped along the way. ACE’s “Mistakes” page on our public website demonstrates that the organization values transparency, learning, and growth.
While we may not be able to explain every matter to all staff completely due to concerns around employee privacy (an even greater challenge with a small organization where people are more easily identifiable), we may be able to assuage staff concerns around transparency by sharing lessons learned in themes.
When such needs arise, we will hold staff meetings or use retreats as forums for these conversations.
5. What commitments will we, as an organization, make about how we want to move forward after we encounter such serious situations as discrimination, harassment, bullying, etc.?
As far as we’re aware, ACE’s new Respect in the Workplace policy (RITW policy) is the most stringent and protective policy of its kind among all organizations operating in our space. It was drafted with great care because ACE takes these matters very seriously. ACE views handling a claim as the first responsibility—and restoring the culture of our organization in the aftermath of a claim as the second.
ACE commits to supporting the restoration of the organizational culture following claims of discrimination, harassment, etc., by offering as much transparency as allowable while protecting the privacy of the individuals involved (per the answer above), sharing and acting on any lessons we have learned thematically (also per the answer above), emphasizing our priority of keeping a safe workplace (reminding people of the RITW policy and channels for reporting), and investing in staff morale (putting more time into team-building during retreats or fostering positive conversations in the Slack channels).
We may also hold special sessions on wellbeing, as we acknowledge that these matters may be triggering for even those not directly involved in the situation based on people’s past experiences.
Our hope is that these measures will allow us to strengthen the cohesiveness of the organization and allow us to move forward productively and assuredly.
6. If I am involved in one of these situations myself, what options would be available to me and what can I expect the process to look like? For example, if I reported an incident, how long would it take for a designated person (or other appropriate party) to record and follow up on the incident?
If you’re involved in a situation yourself, you may bring a claim to a designated person, lead, or the ED, as outlined in the policy. That person should hear and formally record (per the policy’s guidelines) your complaint within 24 hours of you reaching out to them.
Following up on the incident may take more time depending on how many parties are involved, if a thorough investigation needs to take place, and to allow for discussion with a second person who will help to handle your particular claim (a designated person, lead, or the ED), as well as a larger discussion with the leadership team (for further accountability, as per the answer to #2).
Thus, the time from which you bring a claim to the time at which the matter would be considered resolved will be variable contingent on the circumstances. However, you’ll be regularly informed (at least weekly) of the progress of your claim so you may always be aware of its status.
We’re aware that these situations can cause further harm if they are left unresolved, and as such, we’ll do everything possible to address these matters as expediently as possible.
7. What kind of follow-up would I myself be asked to do or be part of?
After providing an initial statement to a designated person, lead, or ED, you may be asked to participate in one or more interviews to provide clarifying information. In certain cases, we may request that you participate in mediation, but only if that’s an appropriate option considering the circumstances.
8. How will I know the status of discussions? Will I be informed if any corrective action will be taken?
Per the answer to #6, you’ll be regularly informed (at least weekly) of the status of your claim by one or both of your claim handlers. You’ll also be informed by one or both of your claim handlers if any corrective action will be taken with regard to the alleged offender when that action has been decided (as long as providing information about that action is not protected by law, as may be the case with the implementation of a performance improvement plan or termination).
9. Alternatively, if someone reported me for my behavior that they found offensive, how could I be informed to allow me the opportunity to change or make amends? How will I know if any changes I attempt to make are enough to resolve the issue with my colleague?
This is a more complicated question and one without a prescriptive answer. If a claim is brought about you, one or both of the claim handlers will reach out to you to learn your interpretation of the incident(s). Depending on the severity of the matter, they may choose to work with your manager, lead, or members of your team to help you constructively make amends and change your behavior. However, if the behavior in question was so egregious, this opportunity may be forgone. It will be up to the two claim handlers to determine how to address each situation specifically.
10. Under bullying and non-sexual harassment, does intention matter? Does ACE draw a distinction between a mistake or misunderstanding—especially one that is changed once the person doing it is communicated with—and harassment? As the policy reads now, anything upsetting (intentional, unintentional, known, unknown, habitual without hostile intent) is harassment and the only thing beyond that is bullying (which is an escalation as it is both habitual and hostile).
The legal definition of harassment—“unwelcome conduct; including physical, verbal, and nonverbal behaviors; that upset, demean, humiliate, intimidate, or threaten an individual or group”—would include an unintentional action if it upset someone or was unwelcome. However, even if the incident is formally described as harassment, we can decide not to take severe corrective action if the incident was a mistake or misunderstanding. For example, corrective action in that case could include coaching, discussion, or the implementation of a performance improvement plan (versus termination).
Generally speaking, intention matters, and a mistake/misunderstanding that results in changed behavior after one has learned that the mistake/misunderstanding was harmful is not as egregious as intentional harm. However, we will also be looking at intent versus impact. If the impact of a behavior has been so severely harmful that it has caused the recipient a great amount of grief despite the offender’s intent, we will need to consider that as well. In addition, if the problems persist even after guidance has been given, that’s when one’s behavior would be considered intentional and our response may require escalation.
11. Is it guaranteed that communication will occur with the team member found in violation of the policy? Or could corrective actions such as demotion, withholding of promotion or pay increase, termination, etc. happen without the incident or determination ever being communicated to the alleged offender?
Corrective actions will always be communicated to the party who has violated the policy; however, the decisions won’t always be a negotiation or discussed in partnership with them in advance of the decision being made. The decision will usually be made by the person who has been approached with the complaint (a designated person, lead, or ED) and one other person from those same categories (since the policy dictates that two people should always make the decision together for checks and balances—this avoids one person ruling too harshly or too leniently).
In some cases the two or more decision-makers may discuss options for solutions/corrective actions with the person who was harmed and/or the person who has violated the policy, getting input before making final decisions on next steps. But that isn’t guaranteed and will depend on the seriousness of the situation and the specifics of the circumstance.
12. When an incident occurs, how soon do I need to report it for the matter to be taken seriously? Is there a timeframe within which leadership expects to be informed of the matter?
There is no timeframe by when you must report an incident. Sometimes, particularly in cases of emotional abuse such as gaslighting, the situation is not immediately clear to the parties being affected. It may be months before they realize they are being subject to harassment. This is one reason why the policy encourages bystanders to support their colleagues when they see them being harmed. In any case, ACE will receive claims about any incidents related to your employment for as long as you are employed with the organization (and up to three months after termination—more on that in the next question).
13. Do these policies still apply to recently terminated employees? Would it be possible for someone to still file a complaint or would that employee’s only recourse be hiring personal legal counsel?
ACE will allow an employee up to three months from the date of their termination to raise a complaint with a designated person, lead, or the ED, and ACE will follow the protocols outlined in the policy to attend to the matter. Three months allows the terminated employee enough time to gather their thoughts and analyze the circumstances, but it isn’t so long from the event that there would be undue logistical strain on the organization to revisit the situation. Though not legally required, ACE offers this three-month period as a compromise between both parties.
14. Who is defined as a “manager?”
A manager is anyone who manages a direct report—whether other staff, contractors, or interns.
Leads are defined as those leading a competency, such as communications, research, philanthropy, or operations. The Managing Director also falls under the category of leads, but in a general capacity.
15. Can a direct report wield power over a manager or someone in a higher position?
From the policy: “Bullying and harassment can be the manifestation of power relationships, and while they often occur by an individual having power over another, they can also occur between two or more people regardless of whether or not they are in a position of power. ACE encourages everyone to be conscious of power dynamics, but especially those most susceptible to experiencing them, such as managers with direct reports or philanthropy staff and donors.”
While it is most obvious that a supervisor could wield power over a direct report, it’s also possible that a peer could wield power over another peer. Subordinates don’t usually wield power over their managers, but that isn’t outside the realm of possibility. For example, the subordinate could have certain dominant characteristics that give them built-in power over their manager (for example, if a subordinate is white while their manager is a person of the global majority/person of color). Power can be held over another regardless of their titles/positions in relation to each other. Power dynamics are complicated as they are not only rooted in organizational hierarchies but structural/systemic inequalities. We will be considering all of these factors when reviewing claims.
16. Regarding the protocol for bystander reporting (in which if we observe harassment, we should either speak to the harasser or report it), how should this be handled when the situations are ambiguous? What if the perceived victim doesn’t agree that they experienced harassment and doesn’t want it reported? If we think we witness harassment, should we check in with the person that we think has been harassed first?
The reason bystander intervention was included in this policy—something we consider an enhancement over other policies of the same kind—is because most of the situations we’ve witnessed related to these matters could have been resolved much earlier if bystanders had intervened. By including language on bystander intervention, we want to encourage our team to think about these matters not as matters between a particular individual and their harasser or just a few parties, but as situations that affect our entire team culture and organization wellbeing as a whole.
Using that lens, that bystander intervention is meant to be protective, we still encourage bystanders to speak up on behalf of their colleagues affected by problematic behavior even if the person affected doesn’t recognize the harm being caused to them.
For example, it can be difficult to be confident that you’re being harassed when you’re being gaslit—the very definition of gaslighting is causing one to doubt one’s own judgment. Thus, a person may not even realize they are being harmed while they are being harmed (they may not recognize harassment, discrimination, etc.). In that way, we should share the responsibility of supporting our colleagues in their individual interests and the interest of our organizational community.
Another way to think about this is to consider if what the alleged offender did was so harmful that it could negatively affect a future person. Therefore, even if the person being affected now isn’t so bothered by the behavior or doesn’t want it reported, could the behavior be potentially harmful to another? In that case, it may also be worth it to say something. There are fewer costs to reporting something, whereas failing to report something could have far greater negative repercussions.
Another option is for the bystander themself to make their own claim as the affected party if they were offended by a comment or situation.
It is true that some situations may appear to some as discrimination or harassment when they may not be; one example given was if it was perceived that a man was constantly interrupting women or non-binary individuals during meetings. That could be because of a gender dynamic, or it could be because Google Hangouts is causing a delay. The latter is much more innocuous.
As there is no single answer to this question, we ask you to use your best judgment. The main takeaway from the inclusion of the bystander intervention language is that we are cumulatively responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our organization. If something is happening to someone, it’s happening to all of us.
Let’s be good colleagues and take care of each other considering the needs of the affected party, future parties who could be affected, team members who may experience fallout from a tense situation, and the organization overall. Designated people, leads, and the ED are available for guidance.
17. I could see there being situations where a working environment becomes hostile, but it’s not entirely clear why or how that happened. Who is responsible in situations like that, and how would employees raise concerns about working in a hostile environment when there is uncertainty or disagreement about the source of the hostility?
In general, it is the role of managers to facilitate mediation when they see tension or hostility on their teams. We encourage people to address conflicts early on, and designated people, leads, and the ED are available for counsel and support.
18. Who conducts the formal investigations? And do employees have the option or right to request the investigation be conducted by an external party? This could be of particular importance in situations that involve board members or an ED. Since we would not allow board members or an ED to investigate themselves, an internal investigation would require someone subordinate to conduct the investigation, which could make it difficult for them to be impartial.
Formal investigations are conducted by two parties from the list of designated people, leads, or the ED. The person bringing the claim can elect to which party they want to bring the claim, and they can also request which two parties they want to conduct the investigation (as every claim must be handled by at least two people, per the policy).
If the corrective action determined by the claim handlers is as severe as termination, the alleged offender’s manager, lead, and ED will always be involved in that decision. The two claim handlers may make the recommendation to terminate someone, but ultimately, the manager, lead, and ED must have input. If the manager, lead, or ED is conflicted out of the decision, the matter may be brought to a board member.
The employee bringing the claim may also request an external mediator if there are a lot of conflicts, but as outside mediation can be costly, not every request will be granted. The claim handlers will determine if an external mediator is necessary and work with the ED to approve the expense.
19. Since some staff are employed at-will, we are not required to provide a reason to terminate every staff member. This makes it difficult for workers to know whether they were terminated for an inappropriate reason and may also increase the likelihood of employees being terminated for illegitimate reasons because there is little accountability for decisions. Could we mandate that explicit reasons be given for demotions or terminations to help ensure accountability and adherence to this policy?
We recognize that there are inherent problems with the structure of at-will employment, which is the standard practice in the U.S. At-will employment has generally been utilized to allow employers to act decisively in serious matters, but it can remove some agency from the staff.
As an organization, we may want to reserve the right to terminate employees without extensive or any notice based on extenuating circumstances, but in general, we agree that it should not be easy to terminate someone. The reasons must be sound.
With these factors in mind, we are reviewing ACE’s policy on at-will termination with our organizational consultant and will also be consulting with legal counsel to determine if we want to modify this policy in any way to more equally support the interests of both workers and the organization.
One way we are considering mitigating the burden of risk for employees is by mandating severance pay.
20. We recognize “political views or affiliation, or other belief- or identity-based expression” as protected categories. I was wondering whether views about labor and workers’ rights are included within this category? I could imagine situations where there are fundamental philosophical disagreements between employees and leadership about what the relationship between authority figures and subordinates should look like. When is it appropriate for workers to ask questions and challenge decisions made by leadership? Are such views considered a protected belief?
While not a protected belief, ACE does place a high value on labor and workers’ rights. In addition, as a research-based organization, critical thinking and questioning is a part of the fabric of our culture.
In general, ACE supports decision-making by consensus, but occasionally by deference to the person with the highest level of expertise in the subject. In order to balance the viewpoints of the staff with the leadership, we suggest the implementation of a two-chance rule: Each person has two chances to contest or raise an alternative viewpoint on a topic with their manager or party in leadership in the moment of discussion (or in the near term, such as within a few weeks from the start of the discussion so as not to prolong the decision-making process). Those are two chances for the staff person to persuade the manager or leader to their point of view. However, if the staff person’s idea is still vetoed after those two chances, then both parties must agree to disagree and the manager or leader’s decision holds with consideration of their position, experience, and expertise.