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How To Stop Employee Harassment + 7 Common Types Of Employee Harassment

Employee Harrassment Prevention

The European Observatory of Working Life describes harassment as: “unacceptable behaviour by one or more individuals [that] can take many different forms, some of which may be more easily identified than others … harassment occurs when one or more worker or manager are repeatedly and deliberately abused, threatened and/or humiliated in circumstances relating to work.”

Employee harassment comes in many forms and can cause a previously harmonious workplace to become one that some employees fear entering. This is clearly unacceptable, and companies should do all they can to prevent this behaviour. However, if your company culture or internal systems are not serving your employees as they should, harassment can become ingrained in your organisation. This article helps you understand the types of employee harassment and methods to stop it from happening. 

1. Why is employee harassment an important issue today?

When an organisation does not act to stop unlawful workplace harassment, it can lead to low morale amongst employees, dented productivity and trouble retaining talent for the company, causing high turnover rates for staffing. Reputationally, online reviews of working conditions can damage the business in the eyes of not only existing and prospective employees but also customers, clients and suppliers. 

Harassment is more widespread than many people realise, with a report into the Istanbul Convention finding that the rate at which women experience workplace harassment ranges from 11 to 41 per cent, depending on the European Union member state in which they live. 

In a global survey of employee harassment, the International Labour Organisation, Lloyd’s Register Foundation and Gallup found that 23% of people had suffered harassment at work. However, only around half had reported their experience to another person. The authors found that it often took suffering multiple forms of harassment for employees to come forward with their stories. 

Victims cited reasons such as not wanting to waste their time on a report that went nowhere and reputational fear for their silence. This shows why creating a safe environment, where employees feel able to make a report, is essential to avoid this negative impact.


2. Best practices to prevent workplace harassment

2.1 Establish a clear policy

The first step to preventing workplace harassment is to work with human resources to create a clear policy that spells out exactly what constitutes harassment and which kinds of behaviours you prohibit in the workplace. This could form part of your code of conduct or ethics. 

The harassment policy should detail the procedure for reporting unwelcome conduct and the steps that the company will take to investigate reports. It should also state the sanctions for anyone found to have contravened the policy and committed harassment against a colleague. 

Make sure you cover all types of unlawful harassment in the policy, from sexual harassment to that targeted at age, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation and more. 

Having a document to state your policy clearly shows that you are determined to prevent harassment in the workplace. You should distribute it to all workers and include it in your employee handbook. 

​​2.2 Educate employees

Once you have your policy, you need to bring it to life for employees, and that means undertaking regular training sessions. Helping employees understand what constitutes harassment and how to spot the signs that a colleague is suffering from workplace bullying of some kind helps to encourage reporting, and the earlier you find out about it, the more easily you can shut it down. 

Training is a way to keep the issues at the forefront of employees’ minds. It can help people understand that what they are experiencing is not okay and that they should report it. Without this, some victims can feel that they have somehow encouraged the behaviour and even that they deserve it

It can also help perpetrators understand the consequences of their actions and encourage them to change their behaviour. 

2.3 Create a supportive culture

When trying to combat wrongdoing of any type within a workplace, the company culture is integral. As evidenced by the statistic about half of victims not reporting their harassment, without the right culture, people can be dissuaded from calling out this behaviour. 

You need to ensure there is no overarching atmosphere of fear and intimidation and instead nurture a speak-up culture that values reporting of misconduct. This ensures the organisation is seen to take issues seriously and investigate them properly. 

Promoting your harassment policy, being seen to be swift and effective in stopping abusive behaviour and ensuring that you develop creative ways to promote the message of zero tolerance for bullies are all ways to instil a supportive culture into your workplace. It can help you avoid poor employee morale. 

2.4 Implement an internal reporting system 

Part of this speak-up culture is making it as simple as possible to file a report in the event of an employee suffering harassment. For these sensitive cases, it is essential that people are able to make reports in confidence and that the investigating team maintains contact with the reporting person throughout the process. 

It takes a lot of courage to make a report of misconduct, and if the reporting person has to go public with their accusation or faces hurdles in the process of making the report, they could easily lose confidence and back out. 

Using IntegrityLog helps overcome these issues. It is an online platform that the victim can access remotely. Since only authorised individuals have access to the details of the report, it remains confidential from the perpetrators. The investigating team can communicate with the reporting person even if the anonymity function is used. This way, they can provide updates and ask for further information without compromising confidentiality. 

2.5 Lead by example

The confidence victims have in your anti-harassment policy is directly related to how they see it being enforced in public. In order to show how seriously you take this type of behaviour, you must lead by example and show that you will sanction those found to have committed abusive behaviour with strict action. 

In addition, executives must be seen to commit to your policies and take action immediately if they suspect there is harassment happening in the departments they lead. They must be seen to welcome reporting, rather than treating it as an inconvenience. 

The culture has to filter down from the top. If there is no buy-in from leaders, it can dissuade victims from making reports and give perpetrators free rein to harass their colleagues.

3. The most common types of employee harassment

These are some of the types of workplace harassment you might have to deal with:

Type of
employee harassment
Discriminatory harassment All harassment is discriminatory, but there is also a type of harassment that targets victims
purely based on who or what they are. This
includes racial harassment and discrimination
based on gender, sexual orientation, religious
beliefs, disability, age or any other such protected characteristics. 
Sexual harassment Any harassment that relates to sexual motives, such as making sexual advances or non-
consensual touches or gestures, showing the
victim sexual images against their will, making sexual comments or offensive jokes and other
similar activities. 
Bullying and emotional harassment This is harassment aimed at demeaning or
belittling the victim. It can involve intimidation towards the victim, but it could also involve
humiliation, continual unwarranted criticism or behaviour that isolates the victim. 
Power harassment Any behaviour in which someone holding a
superior position in the company uses that power dynamic to demean or victimise someone lower down the command chain. It can involve forcing them to carry out tasks that are beneath their paygrade, too complicated so that they fail or that are outside their scope of work. It can also include preventing someone from gaining a promotion for no other reason than malice or verbal harassment intended to embarrass the victim in the workplace. 
Physical harassment When a colleague carries out, or threatens to
carry out, a physical attack on the victim it is
physical harassment. It can also include
intimidation that the victim reasonably believes could turn to physical acts. 
Psychological harassment This is a non-physical form of harassment, aimed at attacking the mental health and wellbeing of the victim. It can involve being belittled or
ostracised from colleagues. Some tactics of
psychological abusers include diminishing the
importance of the person’s point of view, 
gaslighting them, discrediting them and more.  
Retaliation harassment Gaining revenge on a colleague for some
perceived slight is deemed to be retaliation
harassment. This can occur after a colleague
makes a whistleblowing report against someone. The person they reported might commit one of the various forms of harassment to retaliate against them. The EU Whistleblowing Directive demands that companies take steps to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers.

4. FAQs

4.1 What is employee harassment?

Employee harassment refers to any unwelcome or offensive behaviour or action by one employee towards another.

4.2 What makes a psychologically safe workplace?

A psychologically safe workplace is a work environment where employees feel comfortable to speak up and share their ideas and concerns without fear of ridicule, humiliation, or retaliation. A psychologically safe workplace fosters open communication, collaboration and trust among team members.

4.3 How important is psychological safety in the workplace?

Psychological safety is crucial in the workplace, as it has a direct impact on employee wellbeing, engagement, and performance. It creates a safe environment with a sense of belonging and encourages employees to take risks innovate, and contribute to the organisation’s success.

4.4 How can whistleblowing solutions help prevent employee harassment?

Whistleblowing solutions provide a safe, confidential and even anonymous reporting system for employees to report any cases of harassment without fear of retaliation. This enables organisations to take immediate remedial action and prevent further harassment.

4.5 What are the legal and ethical obligations of employers in handling harassment cases?

Employers are legally obligated to provide a safe workplace, investigate any reported harassment cases, take corrective action and prevent retaliation against the victim. Ethically, employers should prioritise employee safety and wellbeing and create a supportive and inclusive workplace culture.

5. Conclusion

When harassment is left to fester in an organisation, it creates a culture of fear and intimidation, leaving a hostile work environment. This dissuades employees from sharing innovative ideas out of concerns over how they will be received. It can lead to losing talent and reputational damage that prevents you from attracting the best candidates on the market due to the perceived hostile environment. 

Implementing a simple, confidential reporting system helps you to encourage reporting and allows you to stop harassment before it becomes a major issue. IntegrityLog allows confidential reporting on any device in any location with internet access. It helps the investigating team keep on track with its user-friendly dashboard. They can interact with the reporting person, building their confidence and keeping them informed of what is happening with their case. 

Request a demo of IntegrityLog today to find out how it can help you create a supportive and safe working environment. 

6. References and Further Reading

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