Workplace Harassment: Know Your Company's Policy

Workplace harassment is unacceptable behavior in any form. Employers and employment law try hard to stamp it out. Most employers actively try to prevent it with clear workplace policies.

Harassment is one of the most difficult issues in the employment market. It costs US employers billions a year, in lost time, lost productivity and in many cases lost staff. Workplace bullying, one of the commonest forms of harassment, has been so much of a problem that many US states have introduced legislation to provide some defense for employees.

The concept of harassment has been legally defined as an "abusive work environment," which is a good description of many forms of harassment. Harassment is a form of abuse, and nobody has to tolerate it. 

The Workplace Policies and Their Issues

The usual workplace policies against harassment include both the default rules regarding anti-discrimination and other Equal Opportunity requirements. Most employers back up these requirements with their own in-house policies and guidelines.

There are several areas in which the employer lays down the rules for the workplace. It's well worth your while finding out exactly what the guidelines are, and who's responsible for enforcing them.

It's easy to find these guidelines from the Human Resources records, or from a local manager. You may need to ask the manager for clarification about some issues which are concerning you, and starting a dialog about them is a good first step, in case you need to pursue a matter further.

Assessing the Workplace Policies

The fact is that while some employers try hard, their in-house policies can vary considerably in quality. Some guidelines for managers aren't necessarily very helpful, either. Managers sometimes have to ask for an interpretation of employer policies from up the line. This can be a frustrating process, so tactfully find out who's the local expert, before you start investigating your options.

Check the policies to assess their practical applications, and look for specific requirements in relation to harassment issues.

The workplace policies should include:

  • A specific statement regarding harassment, which should include references to employer actions.
  • A requirement that all staff adhere to guidelines for proper personal conduct in the workplace.
  • Grievance dispute procedures, which are the basic mechanism for dealing with conflicts in the workplace.

If There Are No Formal Employer Policies

Small businesses often don't have any written policies. The default situation regarding labor laws, anti-discrimination practices and Equal Opportunity are the fallback scenarios, but in cases of individual harassment, they may or may not cover the situation. It's not at all uncommon for smaller employers to simply lack the knowledge to know how to deal with some issues.

The grievance procedure is still an option in these situations, but you'll need to be sure that the employer can conduct a grievance dispute fairly and properly. If you lack confidence in the employer's ability to deal with the issues, you may need legal assistance.

The Legal Options

There may or may not be a working legal approach to a harassment situation. It's advisable to check with a legal professional, to make sure you cover all angles in approaching harassment in this way.