In our last blog post, we talked about the importance of workplace policies and procedures in order to foster a harassment-free work environment. Expanding on the same topic, here are some issues an employer must consider when responding to harassment allegations by employees:
Zero tolerance: Harassment in the workplace is an issue with many potential “gray” areas. It is therefore important to define and provide examples of “sexual harassment” in your workplace policy, as well as emphasize that workplace harassment can lead to discipline or even termination.
Duty to report: The policy should provide a framework for employees to make their complaints, as well as emphasize the importance of timely and accurate reporting to the appropriate management authority.
Retaliation: Harassment (sexual or otherwise) is often about a power move by a superior over a subordinate. Accordingly, the policy should clarify that those who have been harassed or have witnessed harassment will be protected against potentially vengeful acts.
Complaint procedure: The policy should outline a step-by-step complaint procedure, starting from the reporting stage to the investigative and follow up stages, and all the way to the conclusion of the matter.
Records: During the investigative stage, it is crucial that information and evidence are documented, so that the employer can justify whatever discipline that will be imposed on the offending employee.
Confidentiality: Harassment (sexual or otherwise) is often viewed as an embarrassing issue to bring up. It is important to promise the greatest degree of confidentiality possible to the victim, provided that the employer is not compelled by law enforcement or litigation to divulge the information.
Training and education: It is not enough to simply have a workplace harassment policy in place – the policy must be implemented as an active program for all employees to know and understand.
Of note, workplace harassment can be considered to be a WorkSafe BC matter. For more information, see WorkSafe BC’s information on “Bullying & Harassment”.