Harassment of any kind is unacceptable in the workplace for obvious reasons: lawsuits, company image, morale, productivity. Preferably, harassment would be non-existent or happen once a decade. Although it may feel like harassment doesn’t happen that often, that’s not because it doesn’t; it’s because of under reporting.
There are many factors that go into under reporting, including fear of retaliation, embarrassment, perception that reporting won’t result in real action and social norms. Another reason employees don’t report harassment is lack of knowledge about what harassment is. For example, a 2016 report from the US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission found that when women are asked if they’ve ever experienced “sexual harassment” in the workplace without defining the term, only 1 in 4 answer yes. But when the question is rephrased to include an explanation of what sexual harassment is, 60% of women report experiencing some form of it in the workplace.
Moral: When it comes to workplace harassment, knowledge matters. As a supervisor, it’s important to ensure your employees understand what harassment is. If they recognize the behavior, they’ll have a better understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace; they’ll also be more likely to come forward and report if they experience or witness acts of harassment.
Be A Better Supervisor
Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common work-related MSDs.
Possibly the most present in current forms of media, sexual harassment is a hallmark of destroyed brand images and ruined company trust. Despite products and services, sexual harassment can be devastating to careers for both perpetrators and those who turn a blind eye or cover it up. The damages are severe, and rightfully so due to the nature of the crime. It’s best for everyone if sexual harassment is avoided in the workplace, but it’s not always clear what is harassment and what is flirting. In truth, consent is very much a deciding matter in what is considered harassment. Nonetheless, consent should never be assumed, and here are some examples of acts that could be considered harassment, for both your reference and to teach employees:.
- Crude jokes
- Touching; groping
- Sexual coercion
- Sexual acts
- Exposing oneself to another
- Invading personal space (i.e. sniffing hair, standing too close, leaning over)
- Lewd comments
- Explicit imagery and/or revealing imagery
Physical harassment is often easier to spot and define. Majority of the time, it is clear when a physical act is taken too far, but sometimes it may not be clear that a back slap is considered harassment by someone. Factors to consider in physical harassment are strength (no one can know how others feel their strength), placement of the act (shoulder punch is often considered friendlier than a face punch), and comfort (not everyone wants to be hit). In addition to these factors, here are some examples of physical acts:
Emotional, or psychological, harassment is likely the most unclear and possibly the most common. Sexual harassment and physical harassment have the largest consequences, but emotional harassment often doesn’t have consequences. It’s more societally accepted that the victim needs to stand up for themselves with emotional harassment. Nonetheless, emotional harassment has serious consequences for victims, like anxiety, depression, and fear, that ripple into the overall organization’s workforce. Productivity is hindered because of negative emotions. For company profitability, it’s fundamental for employees to want to come to work. Here are some examples to watch out for:
- Jokes making fun of someone
- Leading on romantic, sexual, fiscal, or promotional rewards for effort
- Spreading gossip
Who Can Commit Harassment
Harassment isn’t just men harassing women. It’s gender-agnostic. Men and women can commit it; and men and women can be the victims of it. It can be hetero- or homosexual. Harassment can be committed not just by co-workers, supervisors and managers but also by persons outside the organization that employees routinely encounter in the course of their work, such as customers or personnel from other companies who work at the same site.
The first part of reducing harassment is understanding examples and types of harassment. When people don’t know if an act is harassment, often they take the safe way out and do nothing in fear of overreacting. The solution is not to react to everything, but it is to understand what deserves a reaction. That knowledge starts with you, the supervisor, teaching them.