Whether you are an employer or an employee, everyone is responsible for workplace safety. Within Canada, each province, territory, and the federal government, have Occupational Health and Safety legislation establishing rights and responsibilities for employers and employees. However, this legislation has not made workplaces safe and healthy in general. Here are just a few examples of workplace violence, workplace harassment and domestic violence that employers and employees are facing today. 1.“Patrick Clayton a recipient of WCB benefits entered the Edmonton WCB office and held eight people hostage at gun point for 10 hours before surrendering to police” (Edmonton Journal, 2009). 2.“Pierre Lebrun, an Ottawa Transit worker, walked into work, shot four of his co-workers and injured two more before he took his own life. Mr. Lebrun alleged he was harassed because of his speech impediment” (Branswell, 1999).
3.“Lori Dupont, an OR nurse, was romantically involved with colleague Dr. Marc Daniel for 2 years. When the relationship ended, a disgruntled Dr. Daniel viciously stabbed Ms. Dupont 7 times in the chest at work. Minutes later, he self-administered a drug overdose and died 3 days later” (Schmidt, 2006). Almost 1 in 5 violent incidents in Canada occurs at work which amounts to approximately 356,000 incidents of violence each year in the workplace (Statistics Canada, 2007). “Customers, clients, patients, students, workers, intimate partners, or family members may hurt, threaten, or harass workers while they are on the job” (Labour, guide 3, 2010). Harassment has become a growing concern both in the workplace and in society. The norms and values in society have changed. Actions and words that were acceptable or tolerated before, are not anymore. Everyone needs to be aware of their rights and where they can turn for help and support.
When a person is feeling victimized they can become withdrawn from their family and friends as well as not attending work. At the same time those doing the harassing need to know that there are consequences to face for their actions. All employees and management need to be made aware of how serious this issue has become and that harassment is not only from internal employees but can also come from customers, outside contractors and any member of the public, in all workplaces. To this end, the government has placed greater onus and responsibility on the employer to act not only on reported events, but also unreported known issues of harassment and violence in the workplace.
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Relevant Theories and research
On June 15, 2010, the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, specifically Bill 168 required all employers to examine the risks related to workplace violence, workplace harassment and domestic violence, in response to the increasing displays of harassment and violence affecting larger groups of people. Bill 168 required all employers to comply by ordering them to implement a policy and process to address these issues and ensure the health and safety of all their employees (Labour, workplace, 2010). But before companies can even provide support for their employees, there has to be policies and procedures developed and put into place to address the issue of workplace violence and harassment.
To do this, employers need to educate themselves on what workplace harassment and violence is. The definitions and scope of what constitutes workplace harassment and violence have changed. Workplace Violence is defined as a physical force or an “attempt to exercise physical force against a worker in the workplace that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker” (Labour, key, 2010). This includes threatening behaviour, verbal or written threats, harassment, verbal abuse and physical attacks. Workplace violence extends beyond the traditional workplace and can include off site work related social or business functions or client homes.
Workplace harassment means “a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. This includes sexual harassment, bullying, teasing and intimidation” (IAPA, 2009). Domestic violence is defined as a “behaviour used by one person to gain power and control over another with whom he or she has had an intimate relationship. This “may include physical violence, sexual, emotional, psychological, intimation, verbal abuse, stalking and using electronic devices to harass and control” ( Labour, guide 6, 2010) The sources of workplace violence or harassment can be divided into four categories (IAPA, 2009): 1.External Threat – incidents where an individual has no relationship with the workplace and threatens or commits an act or harassment in the workplace. 2.Clients, customers or visitor Acts – an incident resulting from a client, customer or visitor at the workplace who becomes violent, threatens or harasses an employee.
3.Employee to Employee – acts of violence or harassment resulting from employment relationship. 4.Domestic Violence – incidents that occur in the workplace that arise from a personal or intimate relationship between two individuals. In a guide prepared by the Law Society of Upper Canada, for addressing harassment and discrimination (LSUC, 2009), the Ontario Human Rights Commission (2000) was quoted “the best defence against human rights complaints is to be fully informed and aware of the responsibilities and protections included in the Code”. It further establishes that the adoption of effective harassment and discrimination policies and procedures along with the design and delivery of the program assists in creating a respectful work environment for everyone and also reduces the risk of liability for employers.
Significant harm can be caused by inappropriate response to claims of harassment and violence, not limited to compounding the victim’s experience, affecting the victim’s relations with peers, violating the privacy of the victim, negative repercussions on the business, high absenteeism, loss of business, and legal costs attributed to these claims. In a policy statement published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (Pediatrics, 2006), it said that, although the common belief is that sexual harassment is perpetrated only on women, in 2001, 13.5% of sexual harassment charges reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the United States, were reported by men. According to information gathered by the SASHA Sexual Assault Centre in Hamilton, ON (SASHA, n.d.), “one in four women and one in ten men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.” In addition, only “8% of those who are harassed at work report the harassment.”
According to an article by Karen Hughes in Gender, Work & Organization (2002), she found that women sexually harassed by customers were a significant problem. Her research focused on a study of 63 female retail service workers and 20 security workers and she found that while these women had been sexually harassed by customers, they were constrained in dealing with the behaviour due to the policies and procedures that the employer placed on customer satisfaction. The women were also reluctant to confront the harasser and instead resorted to avoidance or became less friendly, which affected their job performance.
According to Queen’s University Human Rights Legislation Group (2010), employers can no longer rely on the “grey area” of workplace issues. Tribunals and courts have tackled these grey area excuses such as workplace culture of joking, promise of confidentiality, and complainant did not come forward, by tackling them head on, removing them from the grey area and rejecting the excuses.
A Description of the Practical Implications
Effects on the Employee
Harassment is a relevant issue as it can create low productivity for an organization and the morale of employees can drop. The victim may feel shame from being controlled and humiliated. The silence of co-workers is easy to understand because they fear that if they say something, they might be next. Harassment and violence can cause a host of stress related health problems. The employee may suffer from anxiety, disrupted sleep, loss of concentration, post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression or panic attacks. Left untreated and with prolonged exposure, the person could experience migraines, develop ulcers or have cardiovascular stress-related diseases occur; causing the transformation of social factors into damaging biological consequences.
These effects of stress related health problems on the employee lead to increased tardiness, absenteeism and sick leave. When they do make it too work they tend to be unproductive, as Jennifer McCarthy (2010) stated “Harassed employees waste between 10 to 52% of their time at work dealing with, or thinking about, their problem”. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are lost in wages and reduced productivity. Additional negative effects of harassment and violence are reduced job satisfaction, job withdrawal and decreased career salience.
Harassment can also affect the relationships the victim has with family and friends. When a person is harassed they can become depressed, vulnerable, and angry. This could include a loss of self esteem which affects them at work and home and could lead to the development of anti-social behaviour. Other negative effects include decreases in job involvement, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and in organizational citizenship behaviours. The act of reporting workplace harassment and violence in itself may cause the employee distress; doubly impacting their health, behaviour and productivity.
Employees may be reluctant to report customer harassment to employers. Instead they may resort to avoidance behaviours or be less friendly which potentially may impact their performance on the job. This could lead to poor performance reviews when the aggressive customer fills out a survey and expresses their disgruntled view point. In some cases, the employee will request a work transfer in order to get away from the situation. In extreme cases, employees will lose their jobs either voluntarily or through constructive discharge.
Effects on the Organization
So why should employers care? Effects on the Organization include harm to image and reputation that may lead to people mistrusting the enterprise. This evaluation could weaken the market value of the brand and social image. The organization could experience difficulty in employee recruitment, training and retention, because of the harm to the company image. These problems, if not corrected would reduce commitment, morale and productivity, because the negative emotional atmosphere of the company would have a mutual influence on all personnel. A person’s mood will affect one’s working attitude. This in turn leads to reduced productivity and increased team conflict. It could lead to strained management-employee relations, because distrust would manifest itself. When employees begin to question what is happening in the workplace and their concerns are not addressed due to reduced communication in the workplace, this would cause things to become even worse.
Employee turnover causes the loss of talented people for an enterprise, increasing the negative effects and costs of trying to replace the lost worker. It increases the use of Employee Assistance Programs, thus increasing costs of healthcare or benefits paid by the organization. EAP is intended to help employees solve issues affecting their health, happiness, working performance and the problems of success. But, by not addressing the issues of workplace violence and harassment and eliminating them, EAP cannot improve employee productivity, nor reduce employee absences. Short term/long term disability and drug plan costs that should be used for external health issues affecting the employee are instead being spent on an internal issue that should be addressed.
Prevention costs are infinitesimally small compared to the high cost of an incident of workplace violence or harassment. Without policies and procedures in place, there could be extreme consequences for the employer as well as the individuals involved, as shown in the examples at the beginning of this report. The company could also be held responsible for paying out on harassment and violence related lawsuit. Significant harm can be caused by inappropriate response to claims, therefore, it should be emphasised that the goal of an employer’s response should make the alleged harassment stop and to restore the desired workplace environment. Employers should also be mindful that if there is an investigation, remedial action will not protect it from litigation if the action taken was inadequate for either the complainant or his/her coworkers. The employer has the duty to respond when they have been alerted to issues of harassment in the workplace.
The first step for any organization is to put in place a strong harassment policy that is developed by managers and employees. This written policy should include a clear definition of harassment as well as clear expectations of expected employee behaviour. Management and employees should work on creating the policy as a joint effort. The policy should also include corrective actions and stipulate that violation of its terms may result in discipline, up to and including termination of employment. Corrective action could range from demanding an apology for the complainant, providing counselling and/or training to the harasser and other staff to disciplining or dismissing the harasser. Some other alternatives available to the employer and employee are changing the location, assignment or reporting relationship between the complainant and harasser. As well as creating a policy, contacts must be made available 24/7 so a person has somewhere to turn for help since in many cases, the employee is not going to respond immediately to the harassment.
Instead they will do so at a time that they feel they are in a safe environment, such as home or after work hours. Lines of communication must be opened up for all management and employees with methods set up to protect everyone’s privacy who is involved in the complaint. All employees and management must be encouraged to speak up whether they are a victim or a witness. All employees should also be informed on how to file a complaint and to document each incident including place, time and any witnesses. This falls into play whether it occurs in or outside the workplace. Training and information sessions should be scheduled to educate all employees on the policy and procedures in dealing with harassment and include a discussion period to clear up questions.
The employer can use workshops, orientation sessions, films, brochures, posters, e-mail, memos and other tools to educate current employees. A copy of the policy and contact information should also be distributed to each employee as well having the information posted in areas where everyone has access. To ensure that you have advised all employees, have employees sign a commitment pledge acknowledging receipt and understanding of the policy. This will also support the employer’s due diligence should an issue arise at a later date and they must reprimand an employee for harassment and/or violence. It would also reinforce for the employee that the employer has taken this issue seriously. The policy should reinforce the timeliness for reporting a complaint in order to maintain the integrity of the information and witnesses, though it should be understood that the act of reporting may also add to the individual’s distress.
It should be stressed that everyone is responsible for due diligence in reporting and responding to harassment and violence in the workplace. Threat assessments should begin before an individual is hired through background, police and reference checks. In some industries, the background and police checks should be done annually. Exit Interviews would help employers identify harassment related exits. Hiring a third party to conduct the interviews would give an unbiased picture and recap of the interview. In addition, this education should not be a one-time occurrence. On-going information sessions, training and reminders should be done at regular intervals so that everyone knows what their rights and responsibilities are in a harassment-free workplace.
In our report, we described why we chose this topic and why it is relevant. Workplace harassment and violence is everyone’s responsibility. We provided relevant theories and research. To address the escalating problem of workplace harassment and violence, the government has introduced legislation that requires employers to create policies and procedures to increase the awareness and social responsibility of harassment and violence in and out of the workplace. We described the effects workplace violence, harassment and domestic violence have on the employee and the organization. We also provided recommendations for the workplace to eliminate harassment and violence including developing a policy and providing training to existing and new employees. Employers and employees need to understand and be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Victims need to know where they can turn for help and support. Harassers need to know that there will be repercussions for their actions and workplace harassment and violence will not be tolerated.
Violence and harassment have no place in the workplace.
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