Harassment in the Workplace
The workplace is customarily viewed as a disciplined environment wherein confrontation and discourse form part of the daily processes. Nevertheless, numerous problems regarding unlawful harassment, aggression and stress at the workplace influences many workers by reducing their confidence, efficiency and the quality of the workplace atmosphere. In recent years, there has been an increase in complaints related to harassment in the Canadian labour force. Through a series of personal interviews, a focus group, and research of current events, the question “What procedures should be established to prevent harassment from occurring in a business?” will be answered. The purpose of this question is to evaluate solutions that can help protect employees from unwanted, offensive and threatening behaviors that could occur in a workplace.
The Canadian Labor Code obligates all entrepreneurs to develop and establish anti-harassment policies. “The existence of appropriate harassment policies and procedures will be considered a factor by the Canadian Human Rights Commission when evaluating a company’s liability in harassment complaints” (Canadian Human Rights Commission 4). The Canadian government establishes model policies with a purpose to aid employers in meeting their obligations. However, employers are fully responsible for preparing appropriate corporate policies, continuously monitoring their efficacy, and ensuring all employees are informed and trained to the governments’ regulations (Canadian Human Rights Commission 4).
Although sexual harassment has dominated most of the media’s attention throughout the last few years, inappropriate and illicit behavior that occurs in a place of work goes greatly beyond any gender and race issues. In most workplaces, it is common to find several employees who have been personally touched by the bullying and embarrassment of workplace harassment – as witnesses, victims or as one of those accused of troubling others. If businesses fail to educate employees and put in place adequate programs to eliminate harassment and discrimination amongst employees, they can suffer serious consequences. “Employers control the organization, and are therefore the only ones who can actually reverse the negative effects of harassment and ensure a healthy work environment” (Canadian Human Rights Commission 5). Companies that allow workplace harassment may face difficulties attracting and retaining employees that are necessary to the company’s productivity. The organizations effectiveness can also be affected through “frequent sick leaves”, “increases in workers’ compensation claims”, and “reduced performance and morale” (Australian Public Service and Merit Protection Commission). Workplace harassment prevents businesses from achieving high performance and reaching long term goals.
There are numerous measures that can be adopted to reduce the possibility of harassment occurring in a workplace. The most immediate way to implement a prevention policy is through thorough training. In a 2006 annual report from the Canadian Public Service Agency, only 27 percent of departments have made policy-related training mandatory (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat). It is recommended to conduct training sessions at least once a year for all the employees. Keeping management, supervisors and front line workers in separate training programs will promote efficiency. Training programs should include a detailed overview of the company’s harassment policies, explanations of legal definitions, and demonstrations on how to handle complaints to maintain a positive work environment. It is a critical element for companies to establish a defensible position against any harassment allegations. Moreover, varying the training methods by combining discussions, case studies, self-evaluations, and role plays in the training session will help enhance employees’ understanding. Additional materials provided by the company, such as posters or pamphlets, could also be used to strengthen the message. According to Amy Ostermayer, a Human Resource manager at Canadian Western Bank, training is the critical link between harassment policies and positive outcomes. She believes having an anti-harassment policy or simply a sexual harassment policy is not sufficient. All employees, supervisors and managers must regularly receive compliance training to establish an organization’s defence. Each manager and supervisor is responsible for fostering and setting examples for a safe working environment, free of any harassment (Canadian Human Rights Commission 33).
In even the most successful businesses, harassment policies and procedures are likely to fail if a company does not enforce them promptly, consistently, and aggressively. The Canadian Human Rights Commission states that “having a policy in place gives employees an avenue of communication if they have concerns regarding harassment in the workplace” (7). Putting a company’s harassment policy in print and having each employee read and initial the form will serve as an aid against possible lawsuits. Mulligan recommends that policies should outline the company’s position against sexual harassment (1). Many large organizations attach a copy of the sexual harassment regulations along with the hiring paperwork to ensure all employees review the information. The policy must be stated in a clear, simple and logical manner; each worker must have the opportunity to ask questions if the terms are not understood. Rayner advises to think carefully about whom might get involved with implementation of the policy; the higher level of understanding and input, the better a system will work when it is launched (166). Mike Lapointe, a regional manager for Toshiba Business Systems, states that his harassment policy clearly provides penalties that will imposed for substantiated sexual harassment conduct. He believes it is also essential to express the company’s procedures for reporting a complaint and trusts that a well-implemented and effective policy may be able to prevent potential harassment.
Furthermore, many companies’ could benefit from the creation of an informal grievance committee where victims could report occurrences of harassing behaviour. Rayner believes that low-key and low-level interventions that are timely and effective are needed to prevent an escalation of any situation (168). Multiple individuals of both genders, if possible, should be chosen to hear to reports of harassment (Mulligan 2). If the system does show the existence of harassment, the employer needs to act to correct this illegal behaviour. “Employees should also know about the other organizations they can go to immediately if the internal complaint process doesn’t work for them: the Canadian Human Rights Commission, their union, or the police in cases of physical or sexual assault” (Canadian Human Rights Commission 11). By becoming involved immediately, the company is demonstrating that they are reasonably trying to protect their employees from harassment. Employees that fail to use the various relief methods provided by the employer will not be capable of holding the company liable for hostile work environment harassment.
The cost of harassment for a company is substantial. Legal fees, settlement costs and jury verdicts are just the beginning of a simple lawsuit. Harassment will possibly cause immediate and often permanent problems to interpersonal relationships, the work organization and the overall business environment. An organization that does not provide relief to employees to prevent harassment may find itself facing serious financial and legal consequences (Canadian Human Rights Commission 7). Employers will be responsible for all the costs of lost work due to absence and staff turnover rates, and increased safety measures.
Although harassment has been declared unlawful, numerous problems concerning the prevention and handling of harassment continues to afflict workers and employers. Harassment is a topic few people can address without embarrassment. There is a natural reluctance to investigate deeply into this sensitive topic even though a large portion of the workforce, both men and women, are affected. Implementing a workplace harassment training policy that eliminates even one lawsuit can make a big difference to a company’s success. It has been advised that effective complaint seminars can also help reduce the possibility of having harassment evolve in a workplace. Costs gained from harassment lawsuits are remarkable and avoidable if policies and procedures are properly established.
Australia. Australian Public Service and Merit Protection Commission. “Maintaining a harassment-free workplace”, Canberra, 2001. Web. 5 Dec. 2009.
Canada. Canadian Human Rights Commission. Office of Public Service Values and
Ethics. “Anti-Harassment Policies for the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide”, Ottawa: The Commission, 2006. Web. 5 Dec. 2009.
Canada. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Canada Public Service Agency. “Annual Report on the Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the Workplace 2006-2007”, Ottawa, Dec 2007. Web. 4 Dec 2009.
Lapointe, M. Personal interview. 4 Dec. 2009
Milligan, Jim, et al. “Not in my company: preventing sexual harassment” Industrial Management, Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. 23 Sept. 2003. Web. 4 Dec. 2009.
Ostermayer, A. Personal interview. 2 Dec. 2009.
Rayner, Charlotte, et al. Workplace Bullying: What We Know, Who is to Blame, and What Can We Do. London: Taylor & Francis, 2002. Myilibrary.com. Web. 4 Dec 2009.