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How to Deal with Workplace Harassment

Posted by Jessica Miller-Merrell

workplace harassment

A recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder stated that 35% of workers felt they were bullied at work—an increase from 27% a year prior. One of the biggest challenges faced by human resources staff is dealing with harassment in various forms in the workplace. Creating a workplace environment that’s free of harassment can be a daunting task for any human resources professional. Harassment in any form should not be tolerated, but sometimes it can be hard to prevent.

For example, an eccentric dresser might be teased for his or her fashion taste. While we’re no longer in the 5th grade, this type of harassment is not necessarily illegal. Workplace harassment is any unwelcome or unwanted conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or an aversion towards another person on the basis of any characteristic protected by law. You might be wondering exactly what kinds of  workplace harassment is actually illegal. According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal and state laws impose liability on employers for failing to prevent specific kinds of harassment on the job which alter the conditions of employment by creating a hostile work environment.  The EEOC website includes specific information about what kinds of behavior constitutes workplace harassment.

As an HR professional, you might be wondering how to prevent or deal with workplace harassment. We could list 100 things to do in order to prevent all kinds of workplace harassment, but here are a few of the major things to start doing in your workplace, if you haven’t already.

Start with Education & Training

One of the first things to put into place is an education and training program that covers all forms of harassment. Educate employees to make sure the harassment policy is clear, and provide it in writing in your employee handbook to leave no room for misunderstandings. You should always make this training a part of the orientation or on-boarding process. Skip the boring video that was likely made in the 80s, and have your HR Director speak directly to new employees about the consequences of workplace harassment.  Provide follow-up training to anyone suspected of any type of workplace harassment, and keep careful records in individual files if any complaints are made.

Create an Ombudsman Role

A lot of organizations are creating this role to give employees an opportunity to talk to someone other than a senior-level person. The ombudsman is an individual charged with investigating and resolving matters. This position might offer a more impartial forum for resolving complaints outside of the human resources department.

Set the Right Expectations

The human resources department can’t be all-knowing and aware of every problem going on in an organization. Setting proper expectations for directs/department heads /supervisors will give the human resources department a better sense of what’s happening within the organization. If everyone is working together to make the workplace harassment free, it’s likely to decrease the number of incidents.

Workplace harassment shouldn’t be taking lightly. If your company doesn’t have any type of policies in place or a way for employees to voice concerns, start today. Employers are liable and it can be quite costly—it can even cost you your job—if nothing is done to prevent occurrences from happening.

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About Jessica Miller-Merrell

Author

Jessica is listed as the 2nd most influential recruiter online and as the 8th most powerful woman on Twitter. She is the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, a how-to business guide for Twitter users. She also writes for a number of leading publications, including Fortune, HR Magazine, SmartBrief, and HR Executive Magazine.

8 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Melinda K. June, 20, 2013

    If you’ve become a victim of workplace bullying you don’t have to start running around complaining to senior managers or HRs. What you really have to do is to stand up for yourself. You have to show the bullies that you’re a strong personality and they won’t crush you!

  • Mary Schefield June, 20, 2013

    I agree that you have to stay strong and not become an easy target for bullying, because people treat us the way we allow them.

  • Beverly June, 20, 2013

    I think you don’t realize how strong and stressful workplace bullying can be. People who act like bullies aren’t reasonable and if you fight back it may only fuel the flame even more. My opinion is that one man is no man. Don’t wait until situation gets really critical, go directly to your ombudsman.

  • Lisa June, 20, 2013

    I don’t really see how training can help to prevent workplace harassment. Well, it may teach you what to do if you’ve fallen prey to bullies, but it won’t stop bullies.

  • Page Lemmekins June, 20, 2013

    Classic bullies feel very comfortable at their workplace because they are usually high performers and are on good terms with their bosses. They know they’ll get away with any complain or accusation. So, if you see that this is the situation – you’d better find another job.

  • Tracy June, 20, 2013

    Page, you’ve described the worst case scenario. But it’s a fact that there’s nothing more humiliating than to work in place where you’re not only bullied by a co-worker, but also feel that the management is unresponsive.

  • Rose January, 22, 2016

    This is such an on going thing I see it everyday I have stepped down from a supervisor position in the company I work for because of on major bully that has now gotten a managers position which meant he was going to be my boss. This man has had a list a mile long with our HR department about how he speaks and degrades people but again that seems to be ok with the company. I couldn’t work with or for this man my anxiety hit the roof I had to step down. Now stepping down he makes sure that his presences is known all the time he is working to get people to quit and leave but again that is ok. There needs to be a law out there to stop these bullies from being able to degrade employees quitting a job is easier said than done that comment is very degrading why should employees quit !!!!! That’s what they want then it all goes away till the next incident. To me if a company doesn’t want to deal with these situations they need to change there HR team and management there is no way a company will survive to keep good employees if they allow this to happen in there company. There will be a day when a hero steps up to the plate to help employees survive in the work place employees still don’t have rights and our government needs to start doing some investagating in all companies on a regular basic to make them liable to stop this or there will be fines or consequences to the companies. Smart thing about investagating companies the government would get rich because of the allowance of this happening to employees is now so great. EMPLOYEES HAVE RIGHTS TO!!!!! WE NEED TO FIND A HERO TO STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING IN OUR SOCIETY PLEASE COME FORTH!!!!!

  • minerva loya March, 22, 2016

    Beverly,
    I think that you are right. Bullies think that because they have been at the job longer and have the more experience that is ok for them to bully the new girl/ boy. I feel that we all have a weakness when we come into a new job. that weakness blossoms into positive performance within time. they were weak at one time ! the bulling (I think ) has been addressed, but still continues. why I am really not sure why. maybe because it starts at the top. not addressing the problems only leads to anger, calling in sick or worse looking elsewhere for work. We are all adults and this kind of behavior shouldn’t happen but sadly its does. I’ve lost the hunger to work here, cant sleep, stress is creeping up on me . Find it wishing the day was over , when it barely just begun. I leave the next one coming in will more than likely take my place and the cycle continues .. When Does It Stop !!!!!

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