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HR Smalltalk: How to Prevent Harassment in the Workplace

In light of the recent allegations involving Jian Ghomeshi and the investigation into the misconduct of two federal Liberal MPs, there has been heightened awareness of the issue of harassment in the workplace.

Human resource management expert Cissy Pau has appeared recently on Global BC Morning News and The Simi Sara Show on CKNW AM 980 to discuss the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

So what is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment can be broadly defined as "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job-related consequences for the victims of the harassment.”  

What are the main types of sexual harassment? While not an exhaustive list, here are a few examples of some types of sexual harassment:
  • Environmental - Posting sexually suggestive photos which can cause a hostile or offensive work environment.
  • Physical - When someone is touched or brushed up against without their consent. It could also include standing too close to someone.
  • Verbal - Making sexual comments, or frequently asking someone for dates without accepting the rejection.
  • Non-verbal - Making obscene gestures, staring or leering at someone, or providing inappropriate gifts.
  • Threatening - Making threats or offering rewards in return for sexual favours.
Bottom line - If the behaviour is unwelcome or unwanted, and makes a person feel uncomfortable, it could constitute harassment. 

With news of workplace sexual harassment all over the media, what do you need to know about harassment in the workplace?

1. Legislation
WorkSafeBC developed policies effective November 1, 2013 which require all employers in British Columbia to take steps to prevent and address workplace bullying and all types of harassment in the workplace. The BC Human Rights Code requires all employers in BC to prevent and address workplace discrimination, including harassment.

2. Policy 
All businesses in BC are must have a workplace policy that protects employees from harassment. It's not only required by law, it's also the right thing to do. Your workplace policy needs to include the following elements:
  • Policy statement;
  • Definition of bullying, harassment and discrimination, along with examples of proper and improper conduct;
  • Consequences of not following the policy;
  • Responsibilities of managers and employees; and
  • Procedures to follow if you are a complainant or if you witness inappropriate behaviour.
3. Investigation procedures
In addition to the policy, employers need to have procedures for managers to follow to investigate incidents and complaints.

4. Training
It is also mandatory to train managers and staff on the policy, the procedures to follow, their respective responsibilities, and the consequences of not complying with the policy. Training should take the following options into consideration:
  • Conduct training in a staff meeting, team meeting, or one-on-one.
  • Include the policy in an employee handbook.  Employees have to sign off that they have received and read the policies - distribution of the policy alone is not sufficient.
  • Roll out the employee handbook and policy in a staff meeting and review the contents with all levels of employees.
  • Provide training to new employees on the company policy during their orientation to the company.
  • Post notices in visible, high-traffic locations around the workplace, including physical bulletin boards or on a company intranet.
With the news stories about high profile allegations of harassment in the workplace, there is increased awareness of the responsibilities of employers to be compliant with WorkSafeBC regulations and human rights legislation. With upcoming company holiday parties, it is important that employers and employees understand the legal landscape.

For HR services to create and implement HR policies and HR training dealing with harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace, please
contact Vancouver-based Clear HR Consulting.
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