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Document and article by on November 28, 2023 Written by Easy Legal Docs Editorial Team

Workplace harassment is a serious issue that can create a toxic environment, hinder productivity, and even lead to legal repercussions for businesses. It encompasses a range of behaviors from bullying and discrimination to sexual harassment.

Understanding what constitutes workplace harassment, recognizing its signs, and knowing how to prevent and address it is crucial for maintaining a healthy and safe work environment.

What Is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment refers to unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information that creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or even someone who is not an employee, like a client or customer.

Types of Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment can manifest in various forms, including:

  • Sexual Harassment: This includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, such as quid pro quo demands for sexual favors in exchange for job benefits, abuse of power by those in authority, and contributing to a hostile work environment, as highlighted by the Me Too movement.
  • Discriminatory Harassment: Derogatory remarks about a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), nationality, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
  • Bullying: Repeated, health-harming mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees, including verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behaviors, and work interference.

3 Tell-Tale Signs of Workplace Harassment

Recognizing the signs of workplace harassment is key to addressing it effectively. Common indicators include:

  • Decreased Productivity and Morale: Victims of harassment often show a decline in work performance, lack of engagement, and low morale.
  • Increased Absenteeism: Victims may avoid coming to work to escape the harassment.
  • Changes in Behavior: Victims might exhibit signs of stress, anxiety, or depression.

Legal Framework

While the United States has the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforcing federal laws against workplace harassment, other jurisdictions worldwide have their own legal frameworks and regulatory bodies.

The European Union, Canada, and Australia, for instance, have established laws like Directive 2000/78/EC, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Fair Work Act 2009, respectively, to combat workplace discrimination and harassment.

These laws vary by region but share the common goal of creating safe and inclusive work environments. Multinational companies must comply with the specific legal requirements of each jurisdiction in which they operate.

Preventing Workplace Harassment

Prevention is the most effective measure against workplace harassment. Organizations can take the following steps:

  1. Develop a Clear Policy: Create and disseminate a comprehensive harassment policy. This policy should define what constitutes harassment, outline the procedures for reporting it, and describe the consequences for those found responsible.
  2. Regular Training: Conduct regular training sessions for employees and managers to understand the harassment policy and their roles in enforcing it.
  3. Foster an Inclusive Culture: Promote a workplace culture that values diversity, inclusivity, and respect for all employees.

Addressing Workplace Harassment

Once harassment is reported, it’s crucial to take prompt and appropriate action. Steps include:

  1. Investigation: Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the harassment claim.
  2. Taking Action: If harassment is found, take appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator.
  3. Support the Victim: Offer support to the victim, which could include counseling services or adjustments to their work environment.

Workplace harassment is a significant issue that requires proactive measures for prevention and swift action for resolution. By understanding its forms, signs, and legal implications, organizations can create a safer, more respectful, and more productive work environment.

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Workplace Harassment Policy Template

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Template Workplace Harassment Policy

Workplace Harassment Policy FAQs

What constitutes workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment includes behaviors like bullying, intimidation, direct insults, malicious gossip, and victimization. Examples are sabotaging work, unwanted advances, derogatory comments about ethnic or religious backgrounds, spreading rumors, and ridiculing someone publicly.

Who is covered under the workplace harassment policy?

The policy covers all employees, contractors, public visitors, customers, and anyone else employees may interact with at work. This ensures a comprehensive approach to maintaining a respectful work environment.

Can an employee be punished for reporting harassment?

No, employees are protected from retaliation when they report harassment. It's important for employee to speak up without fear of punishment to ensure issues are addressed promptly and effectively.

What steps should be taken after a harassment complaint is made?

After a complaint, an investigation will typically be conducted to understand the situation better. This may involve interviewing the involved parties and any witnesses. The company will then take appropriate action based on the findings.

What are some possible consequences for someone found guilty of harassment?

Consequences depend on the severity and can include counseling, reprimands, suspension, or even termination in severe cases, such as sexual harassment.

Does the policy cover harassment outside of the workplace?

If the harassment affects the work environment or involves work relationships, it may still fall under the policy, even if it occurs outside the workplace. It's important to report such instances for proper assessment.

What if the harasser is a customer or client?

The policy covers harassment from anyone employees may interact with at work, including customers and clients. Such instances should be reported to your manager or HR for appropriate action.

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