Building a successful business requires establishing a workforce of various backgrounds and skill sets, and fostering an environment where employees work together to advance the company’s interests. Conflict and power struggles are natural byproducts of any growing business. Employees will lock horns at times, and while management should intervene when necessary, most squabbles between workers aren’t cause for alarm. However, you should be aware of the line between healthy dissension and workplace harassment, and you should have a defined protocol to deal with behaviour that crosses the line.
What Is Workplace Harassment?
The Government of Canada defines workplace harassment as behaviour directed by one individual toward another in the workplace that the individual knows or should reasonably know is offensive or capable of causing harm. In most cases, workplace harassment requires a pattern of behaviour, not just a one-off incident. In situations where the offence is severe, however, such as groping or violent behaviour, a single occurrence can be sufficient to establish workplace harassment.
Canadian workplace harassment statistics are sobering. A 2014 study revealed that 23% of Canadians have experienced workplace harassment, while a separate study the same year indicated that 43% of women and 12% of men have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
How to Detect Harassment
The first step to detecting and rooting out workplace harassment is having an open-door policy where employees feel comfortable approaching management with concerns. This isn’t to say that every allegation of harassment has merit, but workers need to know that their grievances will be taken seriously and investigated.
Next, establish a procedure for investigating allegations and determining if anything inappropriate has taken place. Interview all parties directly involved and any witnesses to the alleged incident. Determine if a history of inappropriate behavior exists between the complainant and accused.
If you discover evidence of inappropriate behaviour, determine whether it constitutes actual harassment. For example, a comment from a male to female employee such as, “That short skirt looks good on you,” is inappropriate and offensive. However, if it’s a one-time occurrence and the male employee has no history of making inappropriate remarks, he might deserve the benefit of the doubt that his comment was a poor attempt at a compliment and he meant no harm. However, if the same male employee regularly makes suggestive remarks to females in the office, this establishes a pattern of workplace harassment, and the employee should be dealt with and potentially terminated.
Dealing With Workplace Harassment
The best policy for workplace harassment is zero tolerance. Allowing harassment to take place without swift consequences, even in isolated cases, contributes to a toxic workplace culture.
Sever ties with employees who harass others in the workplace. No matter the employee’s talents or what they bring to the table, it’s never enough to overcome a pattern of harassment or bullying toward other employees. In the long run, nothing is more valuable to the health of your business than a cohesive workforce.