Any corporate house is no stranger to legal responsibilities. Avoiding lawsuits of any kind is crucial to any organization as they may tarnish the reputation and goodwill of the company. The most unsettling thing to happen in any workplace is harassment complains; since they, more often than not, lead to government interventions, workplace tensions and many times, even legal battles. Therefore, it becomes necessary to handle harassment at work complaints with great caution.
With the recent #metoo campaign that took the world by storm, millions of women and men have come out with their stories of harassment at their workplaces. However, a lot of people who have been harassed and bullied at work still remain mum because of improper knowledge of the entire situation.
What is considered as harassment at work?
Working environment provocation, or in simpler terms, harassment at work is an unwelcome conduct from a boss, associate, group of colleagues, vendor, or client whose activities, correspondence, or conduct derides, belittles, puts down, demonizes, or criticizes a worker. Physical attacks, threats, and intimidation are some of the different types of harassment.
Harassment may likewise incorporate offensive jokes, verbal abusing, offensive nicknames, and hostile pictures or objects. Meddling with a representative’s capacity to do his or her work is additionally considered harassment.
What are the forms of harassment at work?
As per the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment becomes an offense by law in the following cases:
- Putting up with the offensive and unwanted actions, communication, or behavior becomes a condition of continued employment
- The behavior is severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that any reasonable individual would find intimidating, hostile, or abusive
However, harassment against an individual is forbidden in the following cases:
- When there is a retaliation for filing a discrimination charge
- While testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws
- When opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws
Examples of harassment and bullying in the workplace
According to WorkSafeBC, the following account for harassment and bullying in the workplace:
- Spreading malicious rumors, gossip, or innuendo.
- Excluding or isolating someone socially.
- Intimidating a person.
- Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work.
- Physically abusing or threatening abuse.
- Removing areas of responsibilities without cause.
- Constantly changing work guidelines.
- Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail.
- Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.
- Making jokes that are ‘obviously offensive’ by spoken word or e-mail.
- Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking.
- Assigning unreasonable duties or workload which are unfavorable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure).
- Underwork – creating a feeling of uselessness.
- Yelling or using profanity.
- Criticising a person persistently or constantly.
- Belittling a person’s opinions.
- Unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment.
- Blocking applications for training, leave or promotion.
- Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment.
If you have been subject to one or more of the examples listed above, you are dealing with workplace harassment to a large extent. Therefore, you should consult someone in order to furthere help yourself out of the mess.
How to deal with harassment at work
If you are ever faced with a situation where you have to handle such complaints, here’s what you can do:
Treat the complainer with consideration and respect
If an employee comes to you with a complaint, take their problems seriously and be understanding. Keep in mind that their emotions can have a significant impact on their work and productivity.
Do not play the blame game
It’s very easy to become angry at the employee but remember the fact that the employee is the victim and not the root cause of the complaint. An angry and hurt employee may take up the issue in court and engage you in legal battles, something that you must avoid in all circumstances.
Instead of punishing someone with termination or pay-cuts, etc. for bringing up a false complaint of harassment, use more subtle methods of discipline like changing shift hours/ place of work and isolating the person from meetings and office functions. This is because bringing up complaints, however true or false, is not a punishable offense by law.
In case your office already has an established handbook for such situations, make sure that you follow all the guidelines meticulously. If you try bending the rules, it can lead to unfair treatment issues. For those who do not have a handbook, consider making one for future reference.
Interview the involved parties
Begin the process by interviewing the complainer, and move on to the employee being accused of harassment. Keep track of witnesses, if any, and any relevant documents for the investigation. Take proper notes during all your interactions, including details like dates, place and time of each interview conducted, to be on the safer side. Additionally, it is advisable to document any action taken against the accused or the reasons why no action was taken.
Keep it confidential
Harassment complaints have the power to polarize any workplace. Workers tend to take sides with either the accused or the accuser, and this may lead to workspace tensions. If the situation blows out of proportion, it may also lead to rumors leaking and damaging company reputation. Therefore, it is advisable to keep such issues confidential.
If you are someone dealing with harassment at work or know someone who is dealing with the issue, feel free to read this article and get all the information you need to take action against your offender. That said, with power comes responsibility, so make sure you do not accuse someone of a false crime out of sheer malice and a personal vendetta.
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