What constitutes workplace harassment? | Dhaka Tribune


The success of an organization depends on worker morale

It is the most common form of exploitation and discrimination used by people with authority, power, and a strong network of powerful people. 

It is a process of dominance exerted through their unwelcome verbal, physical or, psychological behaviour centred on race, colour, religion, gender, financial status, nationality, identity, disability, and age.

What is workplace harassment? 

Workplace harassment covers a wide range of actions ranging from subtle intimidation to more aggressive tactics that are anticipated in many forms. It does not essentially mean unsolicited conduct; it is the most common form of discriminatory behaviour not necessarily from the opposite sex, but also from the same sex. 

The majority of these maltreatments in the workplace remain unreported, unlike the Western domain where laws and legal advisers exist to provide support and services to the victim or the distressed employee. In most of the South Asian countries, similar legal framework do not prevail, even if they do, it is not in a robust form to protect under an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The employee feels threatened to report on workplace harassment primarily due to absence of evidence. Often, when evidence is available, victims are reluctant to report with the belief that it may backfire. 

There is a wide range of ways in which workplace harassment can take place, starting from offensive jokes, name-calling, physical assaults, threats, intimidation, ridicule, insults, offensive pictures, and different ways that cause infringement upon one’s self respect. 

In addition, there are various ways of psychological harassment that can lead to poor productivity. 

The harasser can be the boss, supervisor of another department, co-worker, or even a non-employee, who may be a client of the company. 

Examples of harassment

Here are a few things that count as workplace harassment: 

  • Sabotaging a person’s work, preferential treatment, maliciously excluding and isolating a person from workplace activities
  • Persistent and unjustified criticism, often about petty, irrelevant, or insignificant matters
  •  Humiliating a person through gestures, sarcasm, criticism, and insults, often in front of customers, management, or other workers 
  • Spreading gossip or false, mischievous rumours about a person with an intent to cause the person harm 
  • Any action by the management used to primarily offend, intimidate, humiliate, or threaten employees, or create an environment where workplace harassment is more likely to occur
  •  There are also forms of indirect workplace harassment, which are not openly visible. These are signs that may not be always linked with the workplace, and need to be considered within the overall workplace environment. Some common situations which are signs of negative perception can be decoded as workplace harassment

Those noticeable changes become evident in human resource management trends, such as:

  •  Increases in levels of absenteeism and staff turnover
  • Employees leaving the organization reporting dissatisfaction regarding unequal behaviour trends
  • Restricting roles based on appearance despite qualifications and skills 
  • Supervisors asking female employees for lunch or dinner and implying that the employee could go a long way if she plays her cards right
  • Restricting entry or communication with the HR department
  • Not granting access to see or read HR rules and regulations and not granting to see an employee’s personal record 
  •  Assigning petty work when an employee is on a sanctioned vacation
  • Keeping particular employees after office hours with sexual motives
  • Breakdown of relationships between employees and management, creating a wide communication gap
  • Employees becoming withdrawn, isolated, and less motivated 
  • Poor worker morale and wearing down of loyalty and commitment to the organization

To control workplace harassment, a few strategies are required. For example, forming a workplace harassment policy, a methodical complaint handling system, and open communication, training and education are essential for prevention. 

The proper implementation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the support of a legal advisor and appointing a workplace complaint officer who can be contacted for confidential consultations would also go a long way. 

Organizational performance is dependent on worker morale and motivation, and if the ethics of top management are poor, it trickles down to the bottom. It should not be forgotten that “a bad manager can take a good employee and destroy him, causing the best employees to flee, while the remainder loses all the motivation.” 

Kishwar Sayeed is the former HR director of BRAC, and former HR adviser to Prothom Alo Ltd.

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