Quleen Kaur Bijral Bijral
Columnist, The Logical Indian
What is Workplace Harassment?
In a workplace it is understood if there is a difference of opinion, competition or a conflict among members, but it becomes a serious issue if these minor disagreements dovetail into workplace harassment.
Workplace harassment which is a hostile, discriminatory and often a traumatic practice abuses the professional relationship between an employer and an employee. In an organization, there have been cases when an employee is harassed due to his ethnicity, sex, race, colour or nationality. In this scenario, the employee is badgered day in and day out with derogatory remarks, sexist slurs, stereotypical jokes which are meant to threaten or humiliate the victim. The uncalled-for or unsolicited behavior which intimidates the victim into compromising situations is a serious offense which disrupts not only the career prospects of the victim but also damages the credibility of an organization.
It is important to distinguish between substantial cases of harassment from minor arguments in the workplace. Otherwise it can result in waste of time and resources and will cast aspersions on the integrity of the petitioner Harassment has to be persistent, recurring and repetitive act of bullying or aggressive violent behaviour. A single event cannot be registered as harassment until it is severe and results in a detrimental and lasting shock on the victim.
Types of Workplace Harassment
An employee can be discriminated against or maltreated owing to his/her race, sex, religion, etc and it can either be a physical assault or an emotional abuse. It can happen anywhere in the workplace premises, even during travel, conferences, projects or daily workings of a job. The most common type of workplace bullying is Quid Pro Quo or This for That harassment. It happens when an employer abuses his/her power to accept or reject an employee if the latter refuses to comply with his/her sexual advances, religious beliefs, political ideologies, favors and so on. These cases despite their frequency generally are unreported as the victim fears backlash from his/her superiors and most of the time does not know they are being harassed or how to report it without risking their job. In these cases, an employee will be promoted if he/she abides by the diktats of the managers or will be sacked if he/she refuses to do so or attempts to report the culprit. An employee hence is trapped and restricted in his freedom while the manager continues to hold him to ransom and exploit him/her for despicable reasons.
The second account of harassment is Hostile Work Environment which refers to the cases in which the workplace surroundings are intimidating or unwelcome due to the aggressive or unhealthy conduct of the members of the company as a whole. The repetitive cases of malicious gossip in which the victim is made a laughing butt or is scandalized due to his sex, race is the most familiar form of harassment. There are also cases such as use of vulgar language, threats, copying someone’s work, unwanted touching, segregation on basis of sex, colour etc. These insensitive incidents of harassment highlight the severe gravity of this social malaise and how it needs to be checked, resolved and most importantly prevented. Only if it is addressed than ignored the employee can work at his/her best potential in an environment which is conducive to his mental and physical health.
What is Not harassment?
There have been bogus cases of harassment which either are concocted to settle scores or damage the integrity of the coworkers and superiors. Sometimes cases which are trivial or petty in nature are also put up which suggests how this issue lacks awareness in the workplace areas. These are false alarms that can be stopped if the company and its members are sensitized to the relevant concerns of Workplace harassment. The awareness should target every member of the company no matter which position in the company hierarchy he/she belongs to and it should be a mandatory task of every organization to do so.
In a job, it is natural to feel stressed out due to the normal schedules and normal workload and such a case should not be confused with harassment. However stress on a regular basis can make one vulnerable or receptive to being harassed and in this scenario the risk of harassment can increase and should be monitored. The company tends to take corrective action against employees who are absent from jobs, or refuse to work at their assigned tasks, but this is not harassment till unethical events of partiality, discrimination etc are involved. A single event of improper remark or a conflict, a friendly patting on the back, a sociable relationship between members cannot be taken as harassment unless there is a repetitive incident of abuse be it physical or emotional.
In a workplace, an employee should feel safe, secure and able to show his potential. But if he/she is threatened, bullied or his work is copied, then his productivity will certainly decrease and his self-esteem will be hurt to think of resigning or skipping work. Workplace harassment hence is a negative force in a workplace, and should be addressed by each and every company. It is a destructive nuisance which hampers not only the performance of the organization but also fosters depressive tendencies in the victim and leads to loss of morale. The career of the victim is severely put at risk and results in lack of communication, awareness at work, absenteeism and other consequences which disturb the mental state of the employee. Cases of anxiety, guilt, and self-reproach, addiction to drugs or alcohol even suicide are common in victims who are repeatedly sabotaged by workplace harassment. Can then it be ignored or allowed to fester?
How to Report
If you think you are being harassed or know someone who is a victim of harassment, the first step is to confront the harasser. If that does not help or if you think it is not advisable to speak directly to the harasser, you can report the case to the manager who holds a high post than the culprit. It is better to notify the supervisor as earlier as possible so that harassment does not turn into violent or worse situations. Companies and organizations generally have a human resource department where the case can be reported to. There have been cases when harassment has led to aggressive and even violent physical assault. This makes it all the more necessary and an emergency to contact the police without delay. In all these reports it is better and advisable to distinguish urgent matters of harassment from the irrelevant cases as that will only upset the situation than resolving it.
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