Is it Really Harassment?

Harassment: Can you recognize it?

It is often difficult to recognize a hostile work environment or harassment in the workplace.  Do you know if the offensive conduct has “crossed the line?”  The individual facts of each case determine if this inappropriate behavior is unlawful harassment.  One factor to consider is the “reasonable sensibilities” of the person affected.

As a legal term the “reasonable person” is not an average person or a typical person. Instead, the “reasonable person” is a composite of a relevant community’s judgment as to how a typical member of the community should behave in situations that might pose a threat of harm (through action or inaction) to the public.  Courts have recognized that people of different cultures, genders, and races have varying sensitivities toward certain conduct.

“Harassment is all about the boundaries.  They are so poorly marked or defined that it is best to avoid all conduct in the workplace that is potentially offensive based on a persons protected status.”

Be aware that your conduct may be offensive to a co-worker and keep your behavior in check. If you are not sure if the behavior in question is really harassment, answer the following questions:

  • Is the conduct offensive to the person who witnessed it?
  • Might an employee feel compelled to tolerate that type of conduct in order to remain employed?
  • Is this verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature?
  • Does the conduct make an employee’s job environment unpleasant?
  • Is this behavior being started by a person who has power over the other?

Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? If so it is time to STOP the conduct.

Don’t accept excuse!  Here are some typical ones you may hear:

  • How can anyone be offended?
  • No one ever complained before so how cant this conduct be offensive?
  • I didn’t mean any harm.
  • “Boys will be boys.”
  • I just read the policy again and still don’t understand where you draw the line.
  • I was only trying to help with a personal crisis.
  • You cannot take that seriously; he/she is trying to hold us up.
  • I treat everyone the same way.

Now that you have identified the action as harassment and overcome the excuses what’s next?

“If you are an employee,I  suggest that you make a report of the incident and give it to your supervisor, especially if that is the person doing the harassing.”

“If you are the employer it is your duty to take prompt and appropriate action to ensure no other incidents occur.”

Report incidents immediately to prevent recurrences or similar actions from happening to someone else. How people function in the workplace has much to do with how they relate to one another and the relationships they develop. What is deemed as an appropriate or inappropriate relationship is often hard for people to decipher, and even more difficult to determine when someone crosses the line.

To be productive in the workplace and to be an efficient manager, it’s critical for you to be aware of when you or someone else has crossed the line and established an inappropriate relationship.

  • What you should do when someone on your team “crosses the line?”
  • How sexual harassment cases can impact company morale?
  • Which offensive behaviors can be considered harassment?
  • Whose responsibility it is to report what he or she observes?
  • Nine key steps to take when sexual harassment happens.
  • What constitutes reasonable care and how can that impact your situation?
  • Good and bad management techniques for receiving a complaint.

Most people think this is something HR handles, but the truth is most cases start with an employee reporting a situation to the manager. If you don’t know your policy and the law, you as the manager or agent of your organization can make a bad situation much worse.

Dube Consulting offers comprehensive training for identifying and handling workplace harassment.  Why not give your manager’s the tools they need to manage the situation for you?

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