Awareness of harassment and how to deal with it are essential in the workplace

Harassment, sadly, continues to be a fact of life for many people both privately and professionally. In its worst incarnation, harassment can be seen as blatant racism, sexism, or any kind of prejudice that allows one person or a group of people to bully others. It doesn’t even require that a person be in a position of power to bully someone else – they simply need to have the inclination and to feel that they’re able to get away with it.

Many women will tell you that they are cat-called on the street frequently. The old cliché of this happening when passing a building site very often holds true. There are stereotypes in society for a reason, and they hold true because certain behaviors have been allowed for such a long time that sometimes those committing harassment don’t even realize that they’re doing it; or, if they do, don’t consider there’s anything wrong with a little harmless game playing. Fortunately, the law now says otherwise, but education and training are essential. If you are in a position of authority in a company, chances are you should ensure that this type of training is introduced and reinforced in your business.

How can harassment be defined?
If you’ve ever been harassed, you will know exactly how it feels. It’s a violation of your dignity and your emotions will vary from feeling outraged, to humiliated and degraded. Harassment can also be more subtle, and in these cases it’s harder to prove. When someone constantly makes belittling remarks towards you for no reason other than your gender, race, or religious background, this is harassment. However, all too often, if this behavior is brought to the abuser’s attention, they either deny their prejudice or infer that the recipient has no sense of humor and that these sentiments were all expressed in jest.  If this type of situation is taking place in your business, it is essential that you institute anti-harassment training. You may even find that some of the abusers are genuinely unaware that their behavior is offensive.

How does anti-harassment training work?
All employees are entitled to protection against harassment and discrimination. Every employer should begin by putting clear policies in place so that anyone feeling harassed, or even the person accused of harassment, can consult these rules and learn whether their situation is covered by the code. When putting these codes in place, it’s a good idea to draw from international laws (as well as national laws) that govern issues of discrimination. Training staff will help to familiarize them with these codes and will also help them understand the channels they can follow if they feel harassed, and should provide them with the confidence that the matter will be handled promptly and professionally.

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