Laws concerning sexual harassment, racial prejudice, and bullying are steadily evolving, and your policies on harassment in the workplace need to keep pace. For larger companies with a large number of employees this can be a tricky task. With so many different individuals, beliefs, creeds and ethnicities, conflict and intolerance can often rear their head. Dealing with these issues is never easy but mishandling them can be incredibly costly for a company.
In this article we will endeavour to help businesses understand what harassment is, how they can combat it, and how having a robust harassment policy in the workplace will help them keep issues at bay. Let’s begin.
What is Harassment?
Harassment is unwanted behaviour which an individual finds offensive, or which makes them feel intimidated or humiliated. It can happen on its own or alongside other forms of discrimination.
What Does the Law Say About Harassment in the Workplace?
Harassment in the workplace is defined in law as:
‘Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an offensive environment for that individual.’
In the UK there doesn’t need to be an intention of the perpetrator to create such an environment so long as the environment exists. In short, any individual who believes they were subject to harassment at work due to the way they have been treated or feel may claim that they have been harassed.
Work harassment laws are covered in the Equality Act 2010. This regulation dictates that harassment may take the following forms:
- Sexual nature, i.e., a reference to gender. This can include undue pressure on individuals to accept a person’s sexual advances.
- Transgender status, i.e., harassment due to a person’s transgender status.
- Religion or beliefs, i.e., harassment due to an individual’s religious beliefs.
- Sexual orientation, i.e., harassment due to a person’s sexual preference (for example if they are gay or bisexual).
What Constitutes Harassment?
Harassment and unwanted behaviour can take the form of:
- Spoken or written words that are abusive or derogatory to an individual.
- Offensive or derogatory emails, tweets or comments on social media sites.
- Offensive or derogatory images and graffiti.
- Wolf-whistles, obscene gestures or displaying sexually suggestive posters.
- Offensive or derogatory physical gestures aimed at individuals or groups of individuals.
- Offensive facial expressions that cause a person to feel harassed.
- Pressures for sexual favours, or victimisation for the rejection of this.
- Offensive or derogatory jokes aimed at individuals or groups.
- Unnecessary or unwanted touching, patting, pinching.
- Isolating an individual due to a particular characteristic.
You don’t need to have previously objected to something for it to be unwanted. Harassment can form a repeated pattern of behaviour or just one instance.
What is a Harassment Policy in the Workplace?
A harassment policy is a written policy specifically stating that harassment will not be tolerated at work. It will dictate what constitutes harassment as well how the company will deal with any instances of the problem.
What Should a Harassment Policy Contain?
Every business needs a clear harassment policy. Not only does this help employees know exactly what constitutes harassment, but ensures they know how to report any incidents. Here are a few things to include in your harassment policy:
This may sound obvious but a common mistake many businesses make when creating a harassment policy is to use too much legal jargon. Employees probably won’t have a clue as to what the oddly phrased statements in the policy mean. Instead, ensure your policy is written in simple words and statements. Often, it’s easier to just use a template and choose the items that apply to you.
Make Sure it States That No Harassment Is Tolerated
Again, this may sound obvious, but many harassment policies are too wishy washy in their declaration that harassment is not to be tolerated. While you will often define what types of actions constitute harassment somewhere in the policy, it’s important to let employees know straight away that every employee will be protected and allowed to feel safe.
List the Types of Harassment
It’s important for any harassment policy to define the types of harassment the policy prohibits. Having this type of general statement helps employees understand what is and isn’t tolerated. Define each type of harassment and provide examples. You may also need to list sub-categories. For example, with discriminatory, you may want to list items such as race, gender and religion. It’s also useful to acknowledge that the list may not be definitive and other types of harassment are also not tolerated.
Explain The Reporting Process
Detail which people or departments employees can contact if they see or experience harassment. This may include information about anonymous reporting systems and how to use them. List how those who report harassment are kept safe throughout an investigation.
Explain The Investigation Process
Explain how your business investigates harassment claims. This should include how the accused are interviewed, what actions the victim needs to take, who performs the investigation, how long it should take and what happens if a claim is proven or not.
Detail The Consequences
The policy should detail the consequences of harassment in the workplace. This can include anything from being reprimanded to being fired.
How Can Harassment Affect the Workplace?
To put it simply, it is good practice for organisations to implement a bullying and harassment policy. Not only does it make a statement of intent to create a safe workspace for your employees, having such a procedure in place can help improve the company culture, reduce staff turnover and generate a positive professional reputation.
In short, if you have a positive and accepting work environment, your employees will be more productive and less likely to leave. Without one, your employees may feel disillusioned or even threatened and the employers may find themselves in trouble with the courts.
Harassment in the workplace can be a difficult thing to deal with. But with a good harassment policy and proactive management of situations, it can be a lot easier to deal with issues quickly and efficiently.
We hope you have enjoyed our guide to harassment in the workplace. For more informative guides, check out the rest of our website.