Preventing Harassment in the Workplace

harassment in the workplaceThe Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal has opened the flood gates to allegations of appalling behaviour in the entertainment industry. The #MeToo movement has shed light on the number of women and men who have suffered sexual harassment and assault. Day after day, more and more people are coming forward with their stories about harassment in the workplace.

What is tragic is that so many have suffered in silence for decades, afraid of coming forward with their complaints, or those who have made complaints have had them rebuffed.

Unfortunately, harassment in the workplace isn’t just a Hollywood problem. It happens in workplaces across many industries, at all levels. Employers must take a stand and take steps to prevent harassment in the workplace, and if it is happening in their workplaces, to make sure it stops.

What can you do to make sure harassment isn’t a problem in your workplace?

1. Have a Respect in the Workplace Policy in place – Define what harassment is, that it is strictly prohibited, and put procedures in place for reporting incidents of inappropriate behaviour.

In BC, employers have been required by WorkSafeBC to have a bullying & harassment policy in place since 2013, and the BC Human Rights Code requires employers to not allow discrimination in the workplace based on a set of prohibited grounds. Having a policy isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the law.

2. Provide training to employees on the policy – Make sure that employees understand the policy and their rights and responsibilities under the policy. Ensure that employees know that they cannot bully/harass those they work with, and also, what to do if they are feeling uncomfortable or disrespected at work. Advise them of the reporting procedures and who they should advise.

3. Make sure managers know what their obligations are – Managers have an additional responsibility to ensure the health and safety of employees under their supervision and to take all reasonable steps to prevent and/or minimize workplace bullying and harassment. Managers need to stop inappropriate behaviour, whether they observe it or not. If there are rumours spreading about a specific individual, even if there is no official complaint, managers have an obligation to look into the rumours.

4. Treat complaints seriously – As the recent examples of harassment show, it’s very easy for employers to sweep the issues under the carpet, especially if the offending party is a rainmaker for the business. At the same time, in this day and age, it’s very easy for employees to make a complaint via social media, whether real or false, and leave it up to the court of public opinion to decide an individual’s guilt or innocence.

As an employer, you want to create a safe environment for your employees to come forward with their complaints and concerns. Listen to the complaints without judgment. Treat the issue seriously. Investigate objectively. If warranted, determine appropriate corrective and/or disciplinary action.

You do not want to create an environment where employees feel like their only recourse is to complain via social media. The damage done to your organization, your brand and your career, could be severe.

5. Set the right example – Harassment of any kind is an abuse of power, such as picking on someone smaller, younger, weaker, less affluent, less socially adept, less fluent in English, etc. As a business owner or manager, the example of what is appropriate or inappropriate conduct begins with you. Act respectfully and appropriately at all times, and don’t let others get away with their inappropriate behaviour. Employees model the behaviours of those at the top. If you treat people poorly, even if it’s behind closed doors, employees will think that is acceptable behaviour. This is a surefire way to not only have a serious complaint on your hands, but to affect your organization’s ability to attract and retain staff.

We suspect in the days and weeks to come, there will be many more allegations of harassment in the workplace brought public, both inside and outside of the entertainment industry. Our hope is that these recent events will raise awareness of the impact that harassment has on all workplaces and on the individuals themselves, and will start a trend towards stopping harassment in its tracks.

Do you need assistance creating a Respect in the Workplace policy and/or training your staff on the process for preventing harassment in your Vancouver-based small business? If so, please contact Clear HR Consulting.


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