Harassment free workplaces

Date: 2006
Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Publication: Metro
Employers slow to catch on the pitfalls of employees who are abused or bullied by their bosses are now singing the bad boss blues.
Recently, I wrote about how courts are recognizing the effects of personal and psychological harassment in the workplace and awarding tormented employees with significant damages for mental distress. This year, a court in British Columbia awarded a former RCMP constable $950,000 in damages for prolonged harassment and bullying that she suffered at the hands of her commanding officer. The court found that she suffered from such severe depression that she was unlikely to ever work again.
Now more than ever, employers have a greater responsibility to provide a harassment free workplace and ensure that vulnerable employees are safe from abusive bosses and intolerable working environments. One way for employers to ensure these obligations are met is to develop and implement a workplace harassment policy. I recommend that employers consider taking the following steps to prepare an effective workplace policy:
The policy should provide a clear definition of harassment and respect for others in the workplace. The definition should be exhaustive and include all forms of harassment, bullying and equal respect for employees.
The policy should provide very specific guidelines or steps for employees to make a harassment complaint and outline the rights and responsibilities of employees, supervisors and managers when a complaint is brought forward.
The policy must maintain the confidentiality of the complainants and protect employees from retaliation or reprisal.
A neutral and independent person should be designated to hear complaints and investigate the facts. In some instances, a trained third party investigator should be retained to ensure the fairness and accuracy of the investigation.
The disciplinary consequences and enforcement mechanisms of harassment should be clear and leave little room for discretion. The policy should warn employees that certain types of harassment can be cause for dismissal.
The policy should guarantee fair and prompt action to anyone with a complaint of harassment.
Employers should communicate their policy and train staff and supervisors on workplace harassment.
By following these recommendations and ensuring that they are complied with, employers can take an important first step towards creating a harassment free workplace.