26 December 2011

Workplace Harassment and Bullying

I am not a lawyer and this is not considered legal advice in any way, but we recently had a lawyer come to speak to us about workplace harassment and bullying and it really cleared up a few things for me. As a supervisor I was especially interested because I don't want to cross the line, but because I am a supervisor I do have times where I need to speak to staff about various matters. But even if you aren't a supervisor there are things we can say that might be offensive and hurtful to others. 

I was happy to learn that workplace harassment and bullying is based on how a reasonable person would have reacted given the entirety of the circumstances. Therefore if you are an overly sensitive person and found something to be harassing or bullying, it might not be considered so. For instance if I walk down the hall and fail to greet my co-workers, that might be rude, but not fall under workplace harassment and bullying. Also, having to speak to an employee to correct their behaviour or to try to encourage them in their performance (such as performance management, discipline, directives and enforcement of rules and policies), even though the employee may not like them is considered a normal function of a supervisor and not harassment or bullying. 

I was suprised to learn that any person can commit harassment whether they are an employee, co-worker, contractor, supervisor or part of management and that the workplace includes meetings off site, social events and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I am always surprised when I see co-workers writing on Facebook pages about a boss they don't particularly like or that they are so bored at work.  Don't they think their employer or other employees who they might be friends with can see this? 

Here are some examples he gave us of what may constitute harassment: physical acts or gestures, taunting or bullying, verbal abuse or racial comments/references, derogatory comments or jokes, sexual material (even material sent by email) or inappropriate behaviour used to control or influence.  Less obvious examples were things like belittling or intimidating behaviour, creating a hostile work enviroment, disrespectful or discourteous behaviour or overly aggressive or assertive behaviour.

I would suggest if your office hasn't addressed this subject yet, having someone come in to explain this very important aspect of working together would be a good thing so everyone is aware of what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour in the office.

Here some links with more information:
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Bullying in the Workplace
Ontario Government website on preventing workplace harassment and bullying
Canadian Human Rights Commission information on anti-harassment policies for the workplace
Legal aspects for United States

No comments: