Violence and harassment in the workplace are serious issues that can have a detrimental impact on employees; as well as on the overall productivity and culture of a company. According to the Canadian Labour Congress, nearly 1 in 2 workers reported experiencing sexual harassment or violence in the workplace in the last two years, the majority being reported by women, trans, nonbinary, and gender-diverse individuals.
Furthermore, a study conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace harassment faced retaliation, such as being fired or demoted. This not only harms the individual employee, but also creates a culture of fear within the workplace.
Workplace Harassment, Retaliation and Legal Obligations
According to Barb MacQuarrie, Community Director at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Western University, “People who have secure jobs, union representation, and mostly, well-paying jobs offer better protections against workplace harassment, so we can only imagine what’s happening to people who don’t have that security or a union protecting them.”
Companies have a legal responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive work environment for all employees, and ignoring incidents of harassment or discrimination can have severe consequences. Employers should take proactive steps to prevent and address harassment, and protect employees from retaliation for reporting incidents.
In addition to the negative impact on employees, violence and harassment in the workplace can also have legal consequences for companies. Employers can be held liable for failing to take appropriate action in response to harassment or discrimination claims.
Employers can also be held liable for the actions of their employees. This is known as “vicarious liability,” and it means that an employer can be held responsible for the actions of their employees if they were acting within the scope of their employment.
If an employer is found to have ignored or failed to address incidents of harassment or discrimination, they can be held liable for damages, including lost wages, legal fees, and emotional distress.
It is important for companies to have clear policies and procedures in place for addressing and preventing harassment, as well as regularly training employees on these policies. Employers should also have a system in place for reporting incident; and conduct investigations in a timely and thorough manner.
How To Prevent Workplace Harassment
It is crucial for HR professionals to take a proactive approach in preventing and addressing violence and harassment in the workplace. This includes providing regular training and education for all employees (including senior managers and leadership team members); and having clear policies and procedures in place for reporting incidents and conducting investigations.
There are several steps we can take to prevent workplace violence and harassment:
- Develop and implement clear policies and procedures to address workplace violence and harassment, including complaint procedures and a clear zero-tolerance stance.
- Provide regular and mandatory training to all employees on workplace violence and harassment, including what it is, how to report it, and how to prevent it.
- Encourage employees to speak up if they experience or witness workplace violence or harassment, and make sure they know how to do so safely and effectively.
- Foster a workplace culture of respect, inclusion, and support, where everyone feels valued and heard.
- Regularly assess the work environment to identify and address any potential hazards or areas of risk, and make necessary changes to improve safety.
- Take all reports of workplace violence and harassment seriously, investigate them promptly and fairly, and take appropriate disciplinary action when necessary.
- Provide support to those who have experienced workplace violence or harassment, including access to counselling and other resources.
As HR professionals, it is our responsibility to create a safe and inclusive environment for all employees. By taking a proactive approach and fostering a culture of respect, we can work to prevent and address incidents of violence and harassment in the workplace. This can be done by promoting diversity and promoting open communication among employees.
Founding Principal, Managing HR Director
Effie has been a champion of positive organizational behavior for over thirty years. She founded TSERGAS Human Capital over 10 years ago. Aside from her “effervescent” personality and unwavering commitment to HR best practices, Effie is well-known for her work with some of the top legal firms in Canada. She assists clients across various industries with everything from targeted, direct recruitment, strategic human resources planning; and change management initiatives. With a wealth of experience in human resources, workplace investigations, law, public relations, and marketing communications, Effie is a seasoned strategist with expertise you can bank on.