The 21st century workplace is composed of a very diverse grouping of individuals pooled together for the common interest of the companies they work for. Because of this diversity, misunderstandings due to miscommunication can frequently occur, and some can inevitably lead to cases of work place harassment. To avoid this possibility, as well as to ensure a healthy work environment, employers are strongly advised to provide workplace harassment training.
In New Jersey for instance, laws against harassment specifically cover nearly all marginalized groups including homosexuals, racial minorities, women and people with disabilities. Workplace harassment training is essential to ensure compliance with such laws, as well as to avoid the very closely-related legal complaint of a hostile work environment.
Harassment takes many forms, some of them indirect. Bawdy jokes, disparaging comments about gays or Asians, or derogatory characterizations of women can be the basis of a harassment lawsuit if it is offensive to another employee within hearing distance. It does not matter if the suing employee is gay, Asian, man or woman. It is even worse when such comments are in the form of e-mail, because this is solid evidence to produce in court.
There is training available that discusses ways of complying with hostile work environment laws, sexual harassment laws and race discrimination laws. These are often directed at owners, executives and managers because they are the ones who will formulate the workplace harassment policy, and are always implicated as indirectly responsible for any harassment in the workplace. However, employees are also encouraged to attend this kind of training. Some owners may choose to do the training in-house based on what had been learned from such training seminars.
One program that promotes the creation of a respectful work environment is offered by Fair Measures, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in management law and training based in Sta. Cruz, California.
Another, that details the practical aspects of harassment in the workplace is offered online and developed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). It provides a step-by-step procedure on what to do if you are being harassed or you are being accused of harassment. While geared towards DHHS employees, the online program is available free to anyone with Internet access.
With or without the guidance of seminars and programs, there are some simple steps and procedures to follow by managers and employees that would be in line with any workplace harassment policy. Here are some tips to discourage the legal situation of having a hostile workplace environment:
- Avoid yelling. Some supervisors assert control by raising their voices, and it becomes such a habit that they themselves are no longer aware they are doing it. However, it may seem to some employees that they are being targeted specifically, and may just decide they are being harassed.
- Avoid sending inappropriate e-mail to employees and co-workers. As mentioned earlier, one offensive e-mail no matter how innocently made could land you a costly lawsuit. Office workers have gotten so used to forwarding sexually explicit jokes to co-workers via e-mail that they think are harmless but don’t realize that these could land in the inbox of a future plaintiff.
- Provide a process for redress. Establishing a way for employees to air their feelings about perceived harassment internally could nip a potentially messy situation in the bud. Having these procedures in place allows an employee to redress their grievances and resolve the issue quietly and protects management as well if the employee chooses to keep quiet about any incidents prior to filing a lawsuit.
- Roll out the welcome wagon. When new employees come in, management and established employees should attempt to make them feel part of the team. Since this is the workplace and not high school, having a clique that “blackballs” people who are different in some way i.e. gay may be construed as discrimination.
Workplace harassment training for management and employees is very important. It protects employees from becoming victims, educates managers about their responsibilities and liabilities, and clarifies how seriously a company takes harassment in the workplace.