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How can HR handle workplace harassment?

How can HR handle workplace harassment?

An organization’s culture and the level of comfort that employees feel at their workplace constitutes largely in maintaining a company’s reputation. Businesses today are investing in ways to maintain a healthy atmosphere at work, which makes their staff members feel comfortable and secure.

Similarly if employees of an organization are unhappy, it will not only lead to work stress (and consequently poor performance), but also towards creating a negative image of the company. Unhappiness of a staff member does not only indicate his monetary dissatisfaction but could also be a result of his emotional dissatisfaction, if an employee is uncomfortable at work, it can also mean he is uncomfortable around his co-workers!

There could be various reasons why an office member might feel uncomfortable:

Workplace Bullying:

Workplace bullying is referred to intimidating behaviour of one employee towards another. This could include: cornering someone verbally or through rude behavior, usage of harsh language or a rude tone, threatening a co-worker, interference and sabotage and to the extreme; physical mistreatment.

Racial or Gender Based Discrimination:

Some employees feel that they are treated unfavorably due to their country of origin, skin colour or gender. In some situations co-workers go to the extent of showing their dislike verbally, making rude remarks about an employee’s race or colour. Not only this, few a times employees face dislike even due to facial features.

In some cases men feel less favoured as compared to their counterparts. While incidents of prejudice towards women based on their gender has also been noted.

Sexual Harassment:

The highest degree of disturbance at work for an employee is unwelcome or inappropriate physical behaviour from another colleague. This can include anything from unsuitable gestures, sexual comments and to be on the extreme; inappropriate physical advancements.

It is important for all employees to understand that the above-mentioned acts fall under the category of harassment. Harassment by the dictionary means:

It is of utmost importance that employees must at all times remember that harassment is illegal and can be reported and filed under lawsuit.

Prevention Tips for HR

Now comes the responsibility of the HR professionals. The HR Professionals of a company need to be very vigilant. Their first priority needs to be, taking measures to guarantee that harassment doesn’t take place in the first place. For which they must ensure the following:

Written Policy against Harassment:

The company must have a very direct, clear and well-explained written policy on what is considered as harassment, how can it be reported and what action will be taken against those found guilty. This policy must be made in compliance with their legal attorney.

Training Sessions:

The HR must look into two types of trainings:

  1. Trainings on ethical behaviour amongst employees, respecting your co-worker and maintaining workplace decorum.

  2. Trainings on what is considered as harassment by the law of the company and State. Procedures of how to report abuse (seen or personally experienced). What actions will be taken against someone who is found guilty or accused of harassment? Procedure of investigation, which will follow filing of a report.

Open Discussion Policy:

It is very important for an organization to have a culture where the employees have the confidence of expressing their opinions and voicing their problems and issues. In such an environment the staff feels free to come up and place a complaint. If an employee believes that he will be heard, he might come up and report when he senses the first signs of abuse, instead of hesitating till the situation gets out of hand.

Staff Mingling and Involvement:

The organization must have frequent lunches or meetups where the employees can get to know each other better, this fosters mutual respect and understanding. Staff family gatherings must also be encouraged; this in turn builds a reputation pressure; you are most likely to be careful around people who know your family simply because you don’t want news of your bad reputation travelling up to your family.

Comforting Environment:

A positive environment at work breeds well-behaved employees. It is the job of the management to ensure that the culture of their company is so positive that it brings out the best in its staff members. It should be ensured that there are no pressures or factors that trigger frustration amongst employees.

Well-defined Culture:

An organization in its own mission and values must be totally bias free. The vision of a company itself must be non discriminatory. These values must be so strong in a company’s core ideology that it must reflect in every policy and action.

Actions in Case of Harassment:

If unfortunately the situation arrives where an employee places a complaint against harassment, the HR must follow the following steps;

Hearing out: The HR needs to play a very comforting role in such a situation, the employee who is complaining must be heard out very openly, he/she should be given the chance to explain their complaint in detail. Similarly the person accused must also be given a fair chance of explanation.

Written Documentation: Every detail of the complaint and that of the explanation of the accused must be taken down in writing, a file of the case must be maintained.

In-house Investigation: The HR must immediately check the behavioural and ethical record of both the complainant and accused. This ensures that the person complaining is truthful and also gives a pattern of the accused person’s behaviour.

Collecting evidence: The HR must investigate co-workers; potential witnesses must also be questioned in order to obtain maximum information.

Legal Action: Once the HR has looked into the matter with detail at their end, they should take the matter to their lawyers and the whole situation must be handled legally.

At Work Harassment and the role of HR:

Harassment or abuse at workplace is a big responsibility, especially at the hands of HR professionals. The companies must have very stringent policies defining Harassment and its consequences. These policies must be very loud and clear. Every new employee must be given a detailed instruction and training on what counts as Abuse and its aspects. If high preference is given to this, a company can maintain an Abuse free Culture, contributing greatly to a healthy work environment at large.

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