By law, your employer must provide you with a work environment that is free from harassment. The offensive behaviour must be stopped, even if it comes from a customer. Some say the customer is always right. This is not true. You do not have to be the victim of a customer who is treating you badly.
Harassment is treatment or words that are offensive, humiliating or embarrassing, or that deny you your dignity and respect. The intentions of the offender do not matter. Harassment is in the eyes of the beholder. You, the recipient, decide.
Much of the debate about what is or is not harassment comes about because each person reacts differently to certain types of behaviour. The intention behind the harassing words or actions does not matter. What does matter is the effect the words or actions have on you. Even if the offender did not mean to harass or was only joking, if you feel humiliated and cannot do your job as well as before, you have the right to make a complaint.
First of all, think about the behaviour. Is it disagreeable enough that you would call it harassment? No one can tell you it is not harassment, if you feel that it is. Make a note of what happened, when and where it occurred, and who may have seen or overheard it. Then decide how you will deal with it. If you need help, go to someone you trust with your notes. Share your story and ask that person if the behaviour, words or joke seem inappropriate.
If you decide you were harassed, try to confront the harasser. Demand the behaviour stop. State that if it does not, you will go to someone in authority and make a formal complaint. If it does happen again, follow through on your intention. If you do not feel able to confront the harasser, tell your supervisor about your concerns. Ask for help to settle the issue.
Do not be concerned about damaging the person’s career or reputation. That was done when the harassment began. Speak up immediately after the harassment occurs and do not apologize. The sooner you speak up, the more quickly and easily the situation can be resolved.
Most companies have policies against harassment. They spell out what behaviour is against policy and describe the complaint process. If you are told your company does not have a policy or your workplace does not bother about harassment, go to the Human Rights Commission office and file a complaint.
If you are not comfortable doing this or don’t know whom to call, ask a friend or family member for help. There should be access to a company policy that will spell out the process.
No company can afford to ignore the human cost of harassment. Anyone who is a victim of this kind of behaviour is less productive. It also affects others in the workplace and can result in increased absenteeism and employee turnover. Customers may stay away and talk about what they witnessed, giving the company a bad public image. In the end, business will be lost and those in the company may not know why.
The law requires that every company have a policy that clearly defines harassment and describes the steps to take if it occurs. Those in charge must assess the workplace for the following. They should:
The law requires an employer to act when a complaint of harassment is made. It also states that action must be taken even if the employer did not know but ought to have known about the harassment. This is a heavy burden that no responsible employer takes lightly. Companies must hold training sessions so everyone knows about the policy and how to make a complaint of harassment. An employer must act when a complaint is made and investigation reveals that harassment did occur. The employer must take the complaint seriously and assign it to an unbiased, skilled person to investigate.
Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual attention. It is not restricted to sexual attraction and includes the humiliation or embarrassment of women just because they are women. Harassment can include suggestive remarks, verbal abuse, display of suggestive pictures, jokes that demean women, touching or other unwelcome physical contact. Outright demands for sexual favours can take the form of offering a promotion or other employment advantage.
Men and women have been harassed because of their weight or some other physical characteristic that someone may not find attractive and chooses to ridicule.
The courts and human rights tribunals have extended the boundaries of the workplace. They include company sponsored social events, after hours meetings and out-of-town conferences. This means an employer must provide a harassment-free environment for employees at a company party, golf tournament
or company paid conference.
(north of Red Deer)
(south of Red Deer)
No one has to put up with humiliation or inappropriate advances at these events, regardless of the circumstances.
Modern technology has given harassers another tool. Electronic harassment is a problem in workplaces today. It includes offensive screen savers, other crude images, sending jokes and offensive pictures by e-mail and the downloading of pornography from the Internet. Most companies have policies to cover proper use of e-mail and the Internet to prevent harassment.
Some harassment occurs unintentionally. Acceptable behaviour between men and women or persons of different races is quite different today from even five years ago. People can engage in unacceptable behaviour without knowing they are violating society’s rules. As members of a society that is more diverse, we must continue to be aware of what is acceptable behaviour in different settings. Someone who is approaching the unacceptable line with you may not know this. A good self-preservation tactic is to signal that you do not welcome the behaviour, joke or comment.