Workplace harassment is defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act as happening when someone engages in “a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” This definition includes all types of harassment, including personal harassment, also called psychological harassment, and sexual harassment.

Under the OHSA, employers are required to adhere to a workplace harassment policy that may include the following behaviours as workplace harassment:

  • inappropriate staring;
  • circulating or displaying offensive materials or images;
  • workplace sexual harassment;
  • intimidating or offensive jokes or comments;
  • aggressive or bullying behaviour; and
  • isolating or ridiculing a co-worker because of gender identity.

Workplace sexual harassment also includes unwanted attention or advances from a supervisor, manager, or someone else in authority over the worker.

As an employer, harassment is a danger to both your employees and your business. If left unaddressed, harassment leads to an unhealthy workplace, which will impact attendance, productivity, stress, turnover, and accidents as well as morale and self-image of employees.

Keep reading to learn five tips to help you manage workplace harassment:

1. Come up with a written and comprehensive workplace harassment policy.

The workplace harassment policy should ideally be available in hard copy via a manual or employee handbook. Employers should communicate their management commitment to prevent workplace harassment via a written policy that has multiple essential characteristics:

  • applies to staff at all levels of employment;
  • defines and provides examples of harassment;
  • commits to provide support to victims;
  • developed by both management and employee representatives;
  • encourages staff to report any and all incidents;
  • outlines the reporting and investigation procedures as well as consequences for breaching the policy;
  • commits to regularly reviewing the policy and update as necessary.

2. Promote the workplace harassment policy among all of your employees.

Employment and Social Development Canada carried out a survey that showed that more than three quarters of all survey respondents acknowledged that their workplace had a sexual harassment policy in place. That’s a good number of people aware of set policies, but here’s the problem: only 43 percent of those polled ever received any training covering the workplace harassment policy. The most common type of workplace harassment training was web-based, closely followed by classroom training.

Approximately half of those who answered about their workplace sexual harassment ploy said that they were aware the policy outlines the consequences for breaching said policy. However, 31 percent were unsure of what those consequences actually were.

These results show that more financial and human resources need to be devoted to raising awareness about the rights and consequences regarding workplace harassment.

3. Make sure all employees know their rights.

Foreign workers are often vulnerable to workplace harassment because they don’t know their rights, and may be scared of being deported if they complain or become unemployed. Always make sure that foreign workers or internationally qualified individuals receive the proper training on how to identify and report any instances of workplace harassment.

According to Employment and Social Development Canada, visible minorities are more likely to experience workplace harassment than any other groups.

4. Develop and enforce a social media policy.

Workers are legally entitled to a safe workplace, whether that takes place online or in an office. Social media has become an integral part of our lives, but the ability to broadcast opinions and photographs in real time and to audiences all over the world exposes employers to public relations difficulties when harassment goes online.

A social media policy can help protect your company’s brand, offer warning and guidance to employees about acceptable conduct online, and will help to justify discipline where necessary.

No matter the size of your company, a clear internal social media strategy will only benefit you and your employees.

5. Remove barriers for employees who report harassment.

Employees are encouraged to report workplace harassment and carry it through to a resolution. However, three-quarters of those polled in the aforementioned survey who experienced workplace harassment ran into roadblocks from their employers while trying to report or resolve the incident. Furthermore, those obstacles convinced a quarter of those who suffered from harassment from reporting the troubles to management.

To avoid creating obstacles your employees must navigate:

  • Never retaliate against employees who file complaints for harassment.
  • Always take harassment complaints seriously.
  • Initiate workplace investigations into harassment claims.

The well-being of your employees and the health of your business rely on the steps you carry out to deter and resolve cases of workplace harassment. Remember, harassment based on any protected status is illegal, so make sure to include all forms in your workplace harassment policy, including ethnicity, race, religion, and sexual orientation.

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