Did your co-worker sabotage and acclaimed your work? Did your boss threaten you with dire consequences for no reason? Does your peer gossip behind your back or leave offensive messages on e-mail? Do your seniors put you down in front of management, customers or other workers because of your poor communication skills? Does your boss demean your work all the time?
Well, all the activities mentioned above can be rated under the umbrella term of workplace harassment.
Understanding workplace harassment
Workplace harassment covers behaviour ranging from forceful tactics to restrained pressure is any form of verbal, written or physical conduct that tends to belittle an individual by race, religion, colour, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, age, status, political affiliation, and disability. Any employee who has been subjected to any such act at the workplace has the right to complain against his or her employer on the grounds of workplace harassment.
Congenial employment conditions and fair working environments play a significant role in employee performance and even determining a country’s economic progress. Discrimination of employees on dwindling grounds results in generating a divide between them and gradually leads to an unconducive work environment where employees fail to give their best.
In the Indian context, employment related inequality is an inevitable repercussion of thriving discrimination on account of various reasons. While the topic is always discussed in a hush-hush manner, workplace harassment—physical and mental is a harsh reality within the Indian corporate sector whether they are sexual or non-sexual in nature. Interestingly, both male and female employers are victim to it.
It is a little surprising that in most cases workplace harassment is thought to be sexual in nature. But, that’s not always true. There are ample cases of non-sexual harassment as well, such as psychological and mental, that often go unnoticed. And often victims themselves do not realise, and even if they do, they are scared to take action against their employers.
Some examples of workplace harassment are listed below:
- Using racist, phrases, or nicknames
- Making remarks about an employee’s skin colour or other ethnic traits
- Displaying racist drawings, that might be offensive to a particular group
- Making offensive reference to an individual’s disabilities
- Sharing inappropriate images, videos, e-mails, letters, or notes in an aggressive nature
- Making remarks about racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes
- Purposely demeaning a person’s performance capability
- Sharing inappropriate and suggestive images, especially with female employees/colleagues
- Sending suggestive letters or emails
- Sharing jokes carrying sexual innuendos
- Making inappropriate gestures
Forms of harassment at workplace are not limited to the examples mentioned above. Even women who have been victims of Queen Bee Syndrome from their female managers, equally have the right to complain about mental and emotional harassment.
What can employers do about workplace harassment?
Time and again it has been proven, workplace bullying exists in corporate India. But sadly, the issue has not been addressed properly till date. However, times have started changing, and society has also evolved. With women’s rights becoming a major focal point, workplace harassment, especially those physical in nature, have now been taken seriously. Same goes for emotional and psychological harassment of which both the genders – male and female employees are a victim of.
It’s time that employers and their human resource departments wake up, take notice and start addressing workplace harassment issues strictly.
First, all organisations, big and small, should have strict policies and procedures for dealing with workplace complaint and disciplinary matters. Employees should know to whom they can turn if they are facing any work-related problem, and managers should also be trained in all facets of the organisation’s policies in this sensitive area.
Second, set a good example. Understand that the behaviour of the senior management is as significant as any other formal system. Develop a culture where employees are regarded and consulted, whenever a problem arises. Such an environment is less likely to lead to harassment. The organization must make it clear that bullying and harassment are unacceptable.
Finally, maintain a transparent and a fair procedure to take prompt action with employee complaints. Instead of cross-questioning, take into consideration employees’ point of view. Such issues can be sorted using clear grievance and proper disciplinary procedures.
Whenever, a case of workplace harassment arises, employers should immediately take it as an opportunity to examine their existing policies, procedures, management styles and see where improvement is required.