Why is Employee Anti-Harassment Training Important?
It’s important to understand that harassment at work (hostile behaviour in the workplace because of who someone is) is not just unpleasant and undesirable – it’s against the law. In the last few decades, virtually every developed country has introduced legislation to tackle workplace harassment, and the penalties for non-compliance can be huge.
But the risk of legal action is only the tip of the iceberg; all the research indicates that the vast majority of harassment incidents go unrecorded. However, the effect on organisations of persistent harassing behaviour runs deep, when it comes to the loss of valuable staff, poor working relationships, increased stress-related illness, and lost productivity.
So, employers need to be proactive and vigilant in dealing with harassment when it happens or, better still, ensuring that it doesn’t. Employees should be able to report what they see and hear without fear of retaliation.
Whose Behaviour is Covered?
Behaviour which can be construed as harassment may come from virtually anyone with whom a worker comes into contact, such as
- the employer
- co-workers, including supervisors and staff
- anyone else that the employer could reasonably expect the worker to encounter, such as clients and clients (or members of the public in certain circumstances).
What Type of Behaviour Constitutes Harassment?
Essentially, any unwanted conduct on the grounds of a person’s identity which has the purpose or effect of either violating the individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them, can constitute harassment. It’s important to recognise that the effect does not necessarily need to be intentional; ignorance or insensitivity may not be an excuse.
This particularly insidious form of harassment has received considerable publicity in recent years, particularly with regard to certain industries such as entertainment; the ‘MeToo’ movement has shown that women in the film industry may have to deal with intolerable levels of bullying and coercion.
Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which impact on an individual’s employment to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for that individual.
What Forms Does Harassment Take?
The proliferation of channels of communication has inevitably increased the number of forms that harassment can take. Examples include
- spoken words, in person or by telephone
- written communication, on paper or email
- actions (person-to-person, or indirectly such as displaying photographs)
- text messages and social media posts
What Should Employers Do to Combat Harassment?
A clear and well-understood policy on harassment within the workplace is, of course, vital. But it is equally important to strive for the kind of inclusive and diverse work environment in which harassment is less likely to occur, and in which it can be identified and dealt with quickly. Policies, procedures, and internal training initiatives protect individuals and protect the organization. A good staff training programme is essential.
An effective employee anti-harassment training programme will ensure that employees can recognise and identify harassment and discrimination in the workplace and understand its impact on the organisation. It can teach employees about their responsibilities, not just to behave respectfully, but also to report incidents. Training has been shown to be particularly effective when
- It involves staff at every level of the organisation. Senior managers need to set an example to their staff and to demonstrate that the issue is being taken seriously.
- It is tailored to the needs of the organisation. Scenarios set in an office, for example, may be seen as irrelevant by factory-floor workers or agricultural staff.
- It is reinforced and followed up by managers within the workplace.