Workplace harassment refers to the offensive behavior that discriminates, belittles, and threatens an individual employee or group of employees. The offensive conduct is usually aimed at protected areas like sex, race, disability, and culture. Such action can lead to the humiliation and intimidation of an employee making the workplace unbearable for him.
This kind of harassment, which can cause significant workplace stress, is different from the critical comments that are usually brought up in the course of feedback during performance appraisals or evaluations. Feedback is part of the employment process and is used to improve the employees work performance and attitude. Thus, feedback should not be confused with discriminating behavior that is in no way associated with the positive result that feedback seeks to achieve.
Workplace harassment may breach the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination provisions that are stipulated in the Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation. Under this legislation, agencies are held responsible for whatever misconduct is shown by any of their employees unless they can prove that they have acted either proactively or reactively to prevent or to stop further commission of such misconduct. All these are also supported by and found under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
Workplace harassment can actually take place anywhere in the workplace including a particular office, a staff room, or a lunchroom. However, such harassment can also extend outside the four corners of the workplace particularly in places where employees gather. Harassment is clearly defined as a situation wherein one subordinate is trapped by an individual higher in rank and forced to feel belittled as well as discriminated against in particularly protected areas like sex, gender, culture, and others.
Every worker has a right to a work environment that is free from harassment. The employer also has the responsibility to ensure that the company provides its employees with the appropriate work situation. The law clearly penalizes anyone who tries to harass an employee in the workplace leading to the poor job performance of the victim. An employee, who feels in any way harassed could call the attention of the union he belongs to, or the employer, or any government agency that is concerned with human rights, and seek their assistance in fighting the problem.
Workplace harassment cases can be confusing at times. But what sets them apart is the fact that the victim felt offended after the slur was made against the protected areas of sex, culture, race, gender, and others. For example a higher-ranking individual who demands a sexual act from a subordinate in exchange for any incentive, promotion, or a threat to fire the subordinate if the latter fails to agree to the proposal is clearly categorized by law as a violation of the workplace harassment provisions.
What makes workplace harassment more confusing is the fact that it can be committed even with less obvious acts. A man who throws a racist joke, a green joke, or any comment which the other feels is a bit discriminatory and offensive, can be sued for workplace harassment. There are no clear cut examples but employees should be aware of the basis of harassment so they will know when their rights have been violated.