This topic is uncomfortable for many of us, but that makes it no less vital to creating a safe work space. Harassment is never a good thing in any context. However, when it occurs in a business office or other work space, it’s terrible for all parties involved – including the business itself and the owner(s).
There are many forms of harassment, but for the purpose of this article, I will focus on harassment in its “purest” form. It’s vital for a healthy and safe space to have a no tolerance policy on this sort of conduct. In order to form that policy, however, you need to know what actually qualifies as harassment.
What is Harassment in the Work Place?
You can find a legal definition of harassment on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website, as seen here: https://www.eeoc.gov/harassment. If you don’t want to read technical legal terms, though, I am more than happy to explain it a bit more simply. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and I think education about it is incredibly important in the modern age.
We can definite “harassment” as conduct that is unwelcome based on certain characteristics. This might include religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, race or color, disabilities, or age. This sort of issue will likely arise in some form or another at some point.
After all, one of our goals should be to create a diverse team with many varying perspectives. This fosters higher levels of cooperative and productivity in a space, and encourages economic growth in the form of more customers or patrons.
Now, not all forms of harassment are inherently illegal. A small disagreement or argument, or a one-time occurrence, would not fall into legal violation. This doesn’t mean that a business can’t act on it (in fact, I would argue that it is important to take action on all complaints, no matter how small – even just talking to both parties can help prevent future incidents).
However, if enduring harassment becomes required to continue employment at a location, or if the action is so severe that it impacts the overall environment and safety of the space, that is when it treads into illegal territory.
These acts can vary. Some of us are offended by different things, after all. However, there are some that are fairly consistently recognized as harassment in a work space.
The U.S. Department of Labor has a page for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management, which you can look at here. It details what acts might qualify as a disruptive or offensive act.
Threatening comments, jokes that are offensive about race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other touchy subject, ridicule and/or mockery, slurs, or insults can all qualify. A work environment where this is taking place, or seen as encouraged, is quite obviously not a healthy one.
We would never want to encourage these acts to continue taking place. It’s important to remember that harassment can come from anyone. It could be a supervisor or manager. It could be a coworker, or even a non-employee. If it takes place in a work environment, it is still considered harassment at work.
Given the severity of this topic, you most likely want to learn how you can prevent this sort of occurrence in an office or business. There are a few different methods, but you may want to consider harassment training sessions to teach your employees about these instances and how to stop them from happening.
Something that might be emphasized at a training like this is the employee code of conduct. You should, in no uncertain terms, establish policies for harassment. There should be no loopholes or wiggle room. This conduct should never be tolerated.
Having a safe environment for all of your workers is incredibly important, both for you and the well-being of them. As a business owner, you should absolutely be concerned about your employees and their comfort under your employment. Without that, they might feel undervalued and unheard.
At worst, they might even feel unsafe or discriminated against. If you don’t take a stance against this sort of behavior, it might come off as turning a blind eye or condoning it, to some extent.
Teaching the people working for you methods on avoiding harassment is never a bad idea. Perhaps you want to provide some subtle materials before or after a training session – you may do it between trainings to serve as a refresher. Information about relieving stress in other ways, or effective communication methods, can help prevent a confrontation in the future.
No matter what, making a comfortable work space should be a high priority. Harassment should never be acceptable. Reinforce these ideas to your employees via action.