21st October 2019
Harassment is unwanted behaviour which a person finds offensive or makes them feel intimidated or humiliated – it is a form of bullying. Unfortunately, harassment is a part of some workplaces and can cause anxiety, stress, fear and can even affect mental and physical health issues for the employees experiencing it. As a result productivity and efficiency are negatively impacted, making their company’s performance suffer as well.
One of the unique and distinguishing characteristics of harassment is the vulnerability of the person who experiences it. Often, they are reluctant to complain due to fear over what will happen if they do. Some might not know how to take action, leading to them suffering in silence and eventually, most give up or quit.
How can Harassment Affect a Business?
Loss of Productivity
Bullying and harassment can have a serious adverse effect on the success of the business leading to reduced productivity and profits.
This is because bullying and harassment can cause:
- Low morale and poor employee relations.
- Loss of respect for managers.
- Reduced productivity and profits.
- Increased absenteeism and turnover of staff.
- Damage to the image/reputation of the business.
- Irreparably harmed working relationships.
- Stress-related complaints, absences and claims.
- Industrial tribunal or other civil court claims.
- Expensive litigation.
- Negative publicity.
Negative Impact on Culture
Where there are poor employee relations and low morale, there is most certainly going to be a lack of positive company culture. This means that the employees who do stick around aren’t going to care too much about the work they are doing, and your company won’t be very desirable for any potential candidates.
If the internal impacts aren’t bad enough, employers should be aware of the potential legal implications of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Harassment of an employee is a stand-alone offence, but it can amount to:
- Unlawful discrimination on the grounds of race, including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins, sex, including pregnancy and maternity, marital/civil partnership status, gender reassignment, disability, religion/belief or political opinion, sexual orientation, age, trade union membership or non-membership or status as a fixed-term or part-time worker.
- A breach of contract, i.e. a breach of one of the implied terms of any employment contract, such as the duty to provide a safe working environment or to maintain trust and confidence in the employer.
- A criminal offence.
You could be liable for the actions of your employees unless you have taken reasonable steps to prevent bullying or harassment. Action could also be taken against you even after a person has left your employment.
How to Prevent Harassment at Work
Employers can’t outrightly eliminate anything from every happening within the workplace – believing so would be unrealistic. However, it is completely possible to help prevent harassment from occurring through effective and comprehensive methods which demonstrate the company’s concern for providing a safe working environment for its employees.
Follow these 6 steps to show your staff that you care about their wellbeing and have zero tolerance for harassment or bullying in the workplace.
Have a Policy in Place
Write a policy that describes different forms of harassment and, if possible, provide scenarios to further explain what happens when unwelcome conduct turns into harassment. Many employers purchase videos that depict workplace harassment; however, you can construct a policy statement that conveys the same message contained in a training film. If you decide to use a training film, ask for sample videos that are up-to-date and relevant to your business or industry.
Seek Legal Advice
Turn to your solicitor for professional legal advice on your written policy. They should review the policy to ensure that it clearly defines harassment in accordance with employment laws.
Speak to your HR department about developing a training session that specifically addresses workplace harassment. The training should be available to all staff whether they work varied shifts or work outside of normal business hours. Take-aways or written policy statements impact how much information is retained; distribute copies of your company’s anti-harassment policy.
Include your company procedure for reporting, investigating and resolving harassment complaints in the training. The typical process is for the employee to first address the issue with their manager. If they are uncomfortable discussing the subject with their manager, the employee should then visit your company’s HR team.
Take Complaints Seriously
Act immediately to investigate complaints of harassment. Several litigated harassment claims include allegations that the employer sat on a complaint without fully investigating it.
Cover Harassment in your Employee Handbook
Revise your employee handbook to include your company’s position on workplace harassment. Best HR practices suggest that policy statements be revised periodically. Ensure the policy is always consistent with employment laws and applicable legislative changes. If your anti-harassment policy statement was not previously a part of your employee handbook, produce new handbooks and distribute them to your entire workforce.
Make your human resources department available to answer any questions employees have about the training or incidents of harassment. Update and reissue the policy statement and provide training every year. Obtain a signed acknowledgement form from every attendee indicating that they understand the company policy against harassment and file signed acknowledgements in employment files stored in the human resources department.
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