Harassment is defined as any improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another person or persons in the workplace, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. While some individuals may feel that ‘harassment” means only “sexual harassment”, it has become clear that in today’s work environment the term is much broader than that. Harassment is a costly proposition for employers. It can result in: low morale, absenteeism, reduced productivity, employee turnover, and damages and litigation costs. The potential for harassment, including sexual harassment exists in every workplace.The number of workplace harassment claims filed during recent years has increased dramatically.
What is workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment is where a person is subjected to behaviour, other than sexual harassment that: * is repeated, unwelcome and unsolicited
* the person considers to be offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening * a reasonable person would consider to be offensive, humiliating, intimidating or threatening. Workplace harassment can be committed by:
* an employer
* group of co-workers
* client or customer or
* a member of the public.
Workplace harassment covers a wide range of behaviours ranging from subtle intimidation to more obvious aggressive tactics, including: * abusing a person loudly, usually when others are present * repeated threats of dismissal or other severe punishment for no reason * constant ridicule and being put down
* leaving offensive messages on email or the telephone
* sabotaging a person's work, for example, by deliberately withholding or supplying incorrect information, hiding documents or equipment, not passing on messages and getting a person into trouble in other ways * maliciously excluding and isolating a person from workplace activities * persistent and unjustified criticisms, often about petty, irrelevant or insignificant matters * humiliating a person through gestures, sarcasm, criticism and insults, often in front of customers, management or other workers * spreading gossip or false, malicious rumours about a person with an intent to cause the person harm. Management action may be considered as workplace harassment where it is used: * primarily to offend, intimidate, humiliate or threaten workers * to create an environment where workplace harassment is more likely to occur
Signs of workplace harassment
Apart from the direct sign of complaints being raised, signs of workplace harassment may appear indirectly. These signs may not always be linked with workplace harassment and need to be considered within the overall workplace environment. Indirect signs of workplace harassment may include:
* changes in human resource management trends, for example: * increases in levels of absenteeism and staff turnover * increases in the use of employee counselling services * workers leaving the organisation reporting dissatisfaction with working relationships * negative results from organisational climate/worker opinion surveys * the breakdown of relationships between workers, customers or management * workers becoming withdrawn and isolated
* poor worker morale and erosion of loyalty and commitment Measures including a workplace harassment policy, complaint handling system, open communication and training and education can be effective in preventing workplace harassment from occurring.
How to prevent workplace harassment
No single control measure will effectively prevent or control workplace harassment. It is important that these control measures are used together as part of a broader strategy for the prevention of...