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HR urged to ‘shine a light on less typical manifestations’ of sexual harassment

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HC Online | 03 Jul 2015, 08:19 AM Agree 0
The author of a new study on sexual harassment in the workplace has called upon employers to raise awareness around less typical sexual harassment cases.
  • Bernie Althofer | 04 Jul 2015, 02:55 PM Agree 0
    Some workplaces may find the issue of sexual harassment divisive even when there are clearly defined policies and procedures. The harassment becomes divisive in those workplaces where the sub culture is such that some people are expected to 'go with the flow' particularly in cases such as those outlined above.

    In some workplaces, the actual work place practices can mean that what one person says is not taken as sexual harassment (or even offensive in any way) whilst the same thing said by another person can come across as 'creepy'.

    Despite workplaces conducting training, audits or assessments are required to determine whether or not managers and workers at all levels actually know and understand the policy and procedure, know and understand the various 'shades' of harassment, and know and understand what they are actually required to do in the workplace to meet policy requirements.

    In some workplaces, considerable angst is created when one person is penalised for their actions, even when others had indicated their agreement to 'view' certain material. In other workplaces, when a person remains silent during the telling of sexually offensive jokes or display of material and then later makes a complaint, this too creates 'angst'.

    In my view, it is important to have face to face sessions that allow participants to open discussions to share their understanding and concerns, and even come to terms with the implications of what they say or do. For example, they may find it beneficial to discuss why one person might complain when another will not, or why someone finds something offensive when another sees it as 'harmless'.

    In the past, I have provided advice to workers involved in 'joke telling' only to find that someone present later made a complaint. For some, the view is that if one is offended, they should speak up then and there. In reality, it is not as simple as that. In addition, the above story raises the need for managers and workers to talk about same gender harassment. People can and do get offended by language or behaviours that may not directly target them but is said in their presence, about other people.

    Workplace standards need to be set, and managers need to take action to ensure that there is compliance with those standards. The difficulty now is for some people to understand what is a 'workplace', who is a 'worker' and the relevance of work health and safety legislation to unlawful discrimination (including sexual harassment) legislation. Making people responsible and holding them accountable through performance management processes is difficult when there is considerable angst about the approach. It is also difficult to address counterproductive workplace behaviours when the sub culture or even the unwritten ground rules make it difficult not only for targets and witnesses to report the behaviours, and is also difficult managers and supervisors to do the job they are paid to do when they are part of the culture the condones sexual harassment to the point of condoning it.
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