What is Harassment?
Harassment is essentially seriously inappropriate or damaging behaviour which affects people. In an employment context, harassment is any seriously inappropriate behaviour which affects people at work. At work means both a workplace and work activities. Work should be a place free of harassment, retaliation and violence for everyone.
The legal definition of harassment is:
Improper conduct by an individual or group of individuals, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) and/or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause any humiliation or embarrassment, and/or any act of intimidation or threat.
Harassment is often a series of incidents, either by a group or an individual, but can also be one severe incident. Harassment can be psychological, verbal, physical, or sexual in nature, or any combination thereof.
While the facts vary and harassment must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the basic takeaway is this: all employees have a right to a workplace that is free of harassment and violence. The intent of the person or people accused has some relevance but it is not the only factor. Ultimately, the employer is responsible for providing all employees with a workplace (including all activities connected to work) free of harassment and violence.
What to do if you are being or have been harassed?
Being harassed is a difficult situation for anyone to deal with. While there are a number of power imbalances that make harassment especially distressing for normal employees, there are also aggravating factors for executives and managers. It can be humiliating and there may be a lot of pressure to keep silent, either to save face or to save your employers reputation or even to prevent you from getting a reputation as “difficult”. Harassment is a deeply personal situation.
What to do
- Keep careful notes and documentation on everything that is going on
- Do not gossip about this situation in the workplace
- Consult a lawyer ASAP to determine: what you want, what the best plan for achieving it is, and how to execute the plan
False harassment claims
If an executive or manager has been falsely accused of harassment this can have long-term implications for them. Harassment is a serious offence. A harassment allegation is something which can follow you. If an accusation of harassment is based on allegations which are untrue, out-of-context, or exaggerated, you may wish to fight the allegation and protect your reputation.
What to do
- Get legal counsel immediately
- Do not discuss this situation with anyone employed by your employer
- Do not meet with HR or an “independent investigator” without first getting legal advice
- Do not confront the victim
- Do not attempt to resolve the situation yourself
- Do not attempt to influence anyone’s testimony
- Do not retaliate against anyone involved in the harassment inquiry
Harassment is a serious issue that deserves to be taken seriously. By making sure legitimate harassment claims are resolved and false harassment claims are disproven, it is the best way to make very unfair circumstances as fair as possible. Everyone has the right to an environment free of harassment. In an employment context, this means a workplace and work activities free of harassment, false accusations, and retaliation for everyone.