In HR, it’s our responsibility to help manage and monitor harassment in the workplace. Although, really, it’s everyone’s responsibility – from the bottom to the top of an organization – and it can be a tricky subject. Here are a few things that you might not be aware of when it comes to harassment:
Depending on how old the coworker is, a joke about age might cross the line into harassment. People over the age of 40 fall into one of the “protected classes” as categorized by the federal government. Other protected classes include disability, race, religion, gender, military status, and family/marital status. A protected class means that those factors cannot play any part in any employment decision (hiring, firing, etc.), or else you could face a discrimination charge.
You might be more familiar with “quid pro quo” harassment or “this for that” – for example, a boss asks a subordinate out on a date and implies that if they comply, they’ll get the PTO day they asked for, or a raise, or any other term or condition of employment.
The other kind of sexual harassment is “hostile work environment” and its definition is more general – any kind of conduct that interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment is prohibited. This can include jokes, pictures, statements about someone’s appearance, and more.
Harassment can happen when employees are off the clock, at a holiday party, business dinner, or even at a casual gathering of work colleagues not sponsored by the company. If the behavior on that occasion leads an employee to feel uncomfortable at work, it can be considered harassment.
The world of technology is not immune from being included in discussions about harassment. Inappropriate or disparaging remarks on social media about another employee due to a protected class can make an employer liable to a harassment charge. Social media policies in an employee handbook should make clear that that kind of behavior is subject to discipline and won’t be tolerated.
Employees are protected from harassing behavior by anyone that is in their workplace, even if that person isn’t employed by the workplace – including customers, vendors, volunteers, etc. If an employee makes a report of harassment by someone not employed there, it should be handled like any other report of harassment and, if found to be true, the employer needs to make a good faith effort to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
If your organization could use a refresher on workplace harassment, we offer customizable harassment-free training programs for all industries and group sizes.