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HR: Workplace Harassment and Role of HR
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Workplace Harassment and Role of HR

By Betsy Taylor





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Workplace is an environment where people work towards one cause, profit or nonprofit purposes that may be an office or factory.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment can be defined as any act of harassing either verbal or physical based on sex, gender, religion or race and any unlawful form of discrimination. Harassment issues are most difficult and sensitive matters for HR to handle professionally. Whenever a harassment complaint is launched with HR, the department has to act and resolve the matter as soon as possible and in the manner that is most satisfactory for the employee.

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Types of harassment

Workplace harassment has several components and cannot only be limited to sexual harassment but also includes calling out names, offensive jokes, ridicule treatment, insults, assaults and threats that may be physical. The harasser can be one's boss, manager/supervisor of the department, co-employee or even a non-employee.

A person may be a victim of harassment in terms of his race and originality belonging to a certain country. Some may be harassed just for being a front door receptionist because of looks or gender. Women are mostly the victims of harassment. Many female employees are offered to spend time with boss/manager/supervisor in order to excel in their careers.

The role of HR

One of the most important parts of complaints is keeping the private information shared by the employee, confidential, yet investigating the matter properly. Sometimes employees come up with the request for no action to be taken against the concerned person; this appears to be quite a challenge for the HR department because investigating may involve other employees. HR department must make the employee aware that it is the responsibility of HR professionals not only to resolve the issue first hand but also by helping others that may also be experiencing the same circumstances.

The most sensitive form is sexual harassment. HR department must make sure that employees can come forward if harassed sexually at any point and to resolve the matter with confidentiality, sensitivity and professionalism.

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Filing a complaint

If someone is being harassed on the basis of sex, race, religion or any other unlawful matter, the employee must report it to the HR department; first, he/she needs to see the harassment policy of the company. Sometimes it happens that the person to report to is the one who is harassing actually. In such a case the matter may be reported to the person higher in the chain of command.

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Reporting Harassment Protects Rights

When a harassment complaint is reported and that results in a change of employment action such as demotion, getting fired, relocated or denied a raise then the employer can be held responsible. But if the employer shows reasonable care and provides corrective measures to resolve harassment and provides an opportunity to file the harassment case, the employer cannot be held liable. The point is that the employee needs to know that he possesses the right to work in a harassment free environment.

Protecting Yourself

It is illegal that the company retaliates against the person who filed the complaint. This being illegal never means that retaliation won't happen and then such incidents may be reported to the person who is investigating the matter.

Preventative measures

HR department is responsible for drafting out a clear harassment policy and follow it whenever a complaint is filed. If the complaint goes unaddressed, the credibility of employer weakens. If the harassment continues, the employee is not helped through it or snubbed for complaining then the company can be held liable.

HR department needs to clearly outline procedures for filing complaints of harassment and as for the investigation and resolution of complaints, all the employees and managers/supervisors must be trained and well aware that they are confident and have the right to work in an environment that is discrimination or harassment free. An employee when first hired may not know about the behavioral boundaries where HR department is responsible for training them. They must sign the written acknowledgments that will be properly attached in their personal files for future purposes if involved in any such matter. Counseling or warnings in oral or written form may be communicated to the accused person in case of minor harassment but as for severe harassment, suspension or discharge from duty may be ordered.

HR department has so much to deal with other matters but harassment or discrimination issues are very sensitive and confidential and they bring a huge responsibility on HR department to resolve such cases professionally without harming the victim.

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