How to handle harassment in the workplace

Bullying and harassment go hand in hand. It is in both large and small companies. The most common forms of harassment are verbal, psychological, physical, and sexual. When harassment is present, it affects the employee’s productivity, comfort, and safety at work. The best way to reduce the risk of harassment in the workplace is through education. Individuals are not likely to report workplace harassment. They are fearful, or they are uncertain as to what constitutes harassment.

Harassment includes slurs, offensive jokes, mockery, insults, physical threats, interference with work performance, to name a few. There are a variety of circumstances where harassment prevails that we may not consider. These include non-employees and anyone who is affected by the offensive conduct. Unfortunately, harassment has a lot of grey areas. It is vital to report suspected harassment regardless of whether you are the victim or not.

Harassment comes in many shapes and forms. Verbal harassment seems to be the most common. It does not only affect the individual’s career but their health too. It is a non-physical form of violence, and it may be challenging to report. Verbal harassment is often considered a conflict in personalities. But, it may result in high blood pressure, depression, or anxiety.

Psychological and verbal harassment are similar. Although, psychological harassment includes other exclusionary tactics and is more covert. Psychological harassment results in the mental breakdown of the victim as it reduces their self-esteem and makes them second guess themselves. It includes making impossible demands, delegating degrading tasks, taking credit for someone else’s work, or persistently opposing what an individual says.

Physical harassment ranges from unwanted gestures. It includes touching someone’s hair, skin, or more severe gestures such as violence or damage to personal property. Unfortunately, physical harassment can be downplayed as a practical joke when there is no physical harm.

Sexual harassment includes jokes, sharing explicate images, sending sexual messages, or demanding sexual favors.

Digital harassment (otherwise known as cyberbullying) is becoming more prevalent. It is just as detrimental as any other form of bullying. It includes posting threats or demeaning comments, mocking or belittling another, or making false allegations online. Cyberbullies tend to be more aggressive as they feel protected by a screen. It gives them a sense of security.

Human resources play a vital role when it comes to harassment. They should have the training and education in dealing with harassment reports. Many reports lack evidence, and it should not discourage the victim from filing a complaint. Reporting any form of harassment to human resources is vital as there may be other victims with similar offenses. Collectively they build a stronger case.

When dealing with harassment reports, there are points to remember:

  • Remain open-minded. Sometimes it is hard to believe harassment is happening in the workplace, or it may be hard to consider who the individuals are. It may result in a lack of investigation. When a case is uninvestigated, it may land in court and have larger repercussions. Be mindful of drawing any conclusions until the conclusion of the investigation.
  • Treat the person making the report with respect. It is tough coming forward and reporting harassment. The victim may feel vulnerable and afraid. The victim is not the cause of the problem. When there is a harassment report, human resources need to be understanding. When the victim feels heard, they are less likely to take the case to a government agency or court.
  • Follow procedures. Harassment policies and procedures should be in an employee handbook or supporting documents. Following the correct procedure reduces the reporting of unfair treatment.
  • Interview all parties. Take the time to find out what the victim’s concerns are. Taking notes is a great way to ensure you have not missed anything. Then interview the individual accused of harassment. Lastly, interview any witnesses and gather all the relevant documentation.
  • Confidentiality. A discrimination report can cause friction in the workspace. There may be rumors that circulate, and there may be other implications. Keep the harassment report confidential to avoid these problems.
  • Consider external assistance. The company may need an experienced investigator or get government agencies involved. Both will probably ask for all the evidence or documentation human resources has collected as a starting point.
  • Take appropriate action. If there is evidence of harassment, disciplinary measures need to take place. The same counts for an individual who has made a false claim if there is no evidence.
  • Education. Human resources should take the time to conduct training and research discrimination and harassment.

Harassment in the workplace should be a zero-tolerance policy. It is up to the organisation to create policies and procedures to reduce the risk of harassment. They should also create a safe space to report incidents and conduct thorough investigations. It is up to both the organisation and the employees to create a harassment-free workspace.

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