Workplace Harassment

Wed, Dec 10, 2008

Human Resources

According to most legal definitions, Hostile Work Environment refers to harassment or discrimination that is a violation of a person’s civil rights – based on gender, sexual orientation, race, color, nationality, ancestry, ethnic origin, religion, physical handicap/disability, medical condition, physical appearance, marital status, veteran status, education.

Examples of sexual harassment leading to hostile environment include:

  • Staring in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Making offensive remarks about looks, clothing, body parts
  • Touching in a way that may make an employee feel uncomfortable, such as patting, pinching or intentional brushing against another’s body
  • Telling sexual or lewd jokes, hanging sexual posters, making sexual gestures, etc.
  • Sending, forwarding or soliciting sexually suggestive letters, notes, emails, or images

Other actions which may result in hostile environment harassment, but are non-sexual in nature, include:

  • Use of racially derogatory words and phrases
  • Demonstrations of a racial or ethnic nature such as a use of gestures, pictures or drawings which would offend a particular racial or ethnic group
  • Comments about an individual’s skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics
  • Making disparaging remarks about an individual’s gender that are not sexual in nature
  • Negative comments about an employee’s religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs)
  • Expressing negative stereotypes regarding an employee’s birthplace or ancestry
  • Negative comments regarding an employee’s age
  • Derogatory or intimidating references to an employee’s mental or physical impairment

Preventing workplace Harassment

PCT for preventing workplace harassment:

P for Workplace harassment prevention policy

Defining workplace harassment, the impacts, consequences, and how it will be managed in the workplace
C for Complaint handling system
Outlining procedures for reporting, investigating, resolving and appealing workplace harassment complaints
T for Training
How training and education about workplace harassment can increase awareness and reduce workplace harassing behaviors

Workplace harassment prevention policy

A workplace harassment prevention policy should be developed and implemented in the workplace. The policy should outline the company’s commitment to address harassment and expectations regarding appropriate workplace behavior. It should be displayed where all workers can read it. The policy should be developed in consultation with workers and supported by manager or CEO.

Typically, the harassment policy should be readily available within the workplace, for example from the human resources or administration office. (Sample policy in appendix)

The improper use of Internet access at workplace can lead to harassment claims. In order to prevent it, the Harassment Prevention Policy should include reference to Internet Usage Policy for complaints arising from Internet usage. (See the section on Internet Usage)

Complaint handling system

Complaint handling system should include procedures for reporting, investigating, resolving and appealing workplace harassment complaints. The system should be fair, impartial, and be developed in consultation with workers, managers, & supervisors.

A formal complaints handling system should include:

  • a formal reporting procedure
  • an investigation procedure
  • a complaint resolution procedure
  • an appeals process

Training and education

Training and educating workers on issues of workplace harassment can help prevent or control exposure to workplace harassment. Creating awareness of workplace harassment issues, policies and procedures helps reinforce the commitment of the workplace to addressing it. Awareness can be promoted through training that addresses general workplace harassment issues, the workplace harassment prevention policy, and procedures for making complaints.

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