Dealing With Harassment at Workplaces

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DealingWith Harassment at Workplaces


Harassmentat the places of work is a common phenomenon that occurs in differentforms. Although there are laws that have been formulated to ensurethat employers establish a safe environment for all members of staff,incidents of bullying have been increasing with time. This creates aneed for researchers to explore the effectiveness of initiativestaken by employers to address cases of harassment. For example, over90 % of the companies in Ireland, 84 % in the U.K., 79 % in Sweden,72 % in Finland, and 71 % in Belgium have developed anti-harassmentpolicies. Harassment at the places of work results from behavioral,cognitive, and developmental factors, which creates the need foreffective training programs. The use of informal approaches to dealwith bullying is preferred because it restores a suitable workingrelationship between the harasser and the victim compared to formalprocedures. Alternative methods of resolving cases of harassment aremore accessible to employees and they reduce the risk of litigation.

Keywords: Harassment, bullying, anti-harassment policies, alternativedispute resolution mechanisms.

DealingWith Harassment at Workplaces

Harassmentat work distracts organizations from the establishment as well as themaintenance of diverse, vital, and fruitful workplaces. Research inthe area of harassment at work gained significance in the last twodecades, which has enhanced the understanding of this phenomenon thatis often misunderstood (Branch, Ramsay &amp Barker, 2013). The termworkplace harassment is used to refer to unreasonable actions takenby individuals or groups of people and directed towards a givenemployee or a group of members of staff, with the objective ofintimidating them (Branch, Ramsay &amp Barker, 2013). Although thegovernment has developed laws and policies that force modernorganizations to establish working environments that are safe for allemployees, trends indicate that the prevalence of harassment in theplaces of work has been increasing with time. It is estimated thatabout 27 % of the employees experienced at least one case ofharassment in their life (Work Bullying Institute, 2016). This is anindication that the government efforts to pressure organizations toprotect employees from bullying have failed. The present researchwill answer the question, “What is the effectiveness of employerinitiatives in dealing with incidents of harassment at the places ofwork?” Measures taken by employers to ensure that all members ofstaff are treated fairly provide viable solutions to the issue ofharassment because they are based on moral as well as ethicalreasoning.

Typesand Causes of Workplace Harassment

Thereare many types of harassment that occur at the places of work, butthey can be put into four broad categories. First, sexual harassmentoccurs in different forms, including unwanted advances and a requestfor sexual favors (WBI, 2016). Some remarks and jokes made bycoworkers may be offensive to others, especially when they touch onthe sexuality of other members of staff.

Secondly,some employees are bullied because of their gender differences. Mostof the victims of this type of persecution are women, who receive alot of comments and jokes that demean their ability to perform wellat work (WBI, 2016). Although it may take place in any industry, itmainly affects women who choose careers in the male-dominatedsectors.

Third,ethnic heritage has become one of the most significant sources ofaggravation in the modern society. This is attributed to an increasein the population diversity that has forced employers to recruitpeople from different ethnic backgrounds (WBI, 2016). Employees fromthe minority ethnic groups are quite sensitive to an extent thatpositive commentaries could sound offensive to them, especially whenthey come from coworkers from dominant races.

Fourthreligious differences have gained significance in the modern world,especially with the increase in the popularity of an idea thatterrorism is associated with Islam (WBI, 2016). Denying the membersof staff the right to observe religious days and the dressing codewhile at work can be considered as a form of bullying. Under normalcircumstances, members of staff should be given the freedom to engagein their religious practices unless they affect the productivity ofother workers.

Prevalenceof Harassment in the Places of Work

Itis regrettable that members of staff are still undergoing harassment,in spite of the many laws put in place to pressure employers toestablish working environments that are safe for all employees.Although many countries do not keep accurate data on workplacepractices and incidents, it is estimated that about 10 % – 15 % ofall workers are exposed to at least one form of harassment each year(Branch, Ramsay &amp Barker, 2013). However, the prevalence ratevaries depending on the definition used by the stakeholders in thelabor market. For example, a study that focused on cases of bullyingthat affect the victim’s ability to engage in work-related tasksconcluded that the annual prevalence is less than five percent(Hanif, 2011). In addition, the type of research methodology usedcould also determine the prevalence rate that is reported byresearchers. For an instant, a self-reported study that focused onthe operational methods used by an employer indicated that about 83.2% of the members of staff feel that they are harassed in many ways,including the issuance of unreasonable deadlines and goals (Omar,Mokhatar &amp Hamzah, 2015).

AlternativeEmployer-Initiatives Used In Dealing with Harassment at the Places ofWork

InternalAnti-Harassment Policies Developed By the Employer

Theestablishment of anti-harassment policies helps the organizationremain proactive in dealing with any form of pestering at the placeof work. The majority of the organizations consider policies as themost important tools that can help them prevent and deal with casesof harassment when they occur. The report of a study conducted bySugeno (2013) on 28,648 managers indicated that over 90 % of thecompanies in Ireland, 84 % in the U.K., 79 % in Sweden, 72 % inFinland, and 71 % in Belgium apply policies and procedures to dealwith the cases of maltreatment. The outcome of the study suggeststhat more than half of the companies in all countries that considerpolicies and procedure as effective tools for ensuring that themanagement is proactive in resolving the issue of harassment.However, the same study also indicated that the tendency of theorganizations to establish policies and procedures was more common inlarge firms than in small companies (Sugeno, 2013).

Theeffectiveness of policies and procedures is associated with the factthat they guide and hold the management accountable for theprevention and resolution of cases of harassment. This is becauseanti-harassment policies demonstrate the commitment of the topmanagement in establishing a safe working environment (Sugeno, 2013).The most successful organizations integrate anti-harassment processesin their corporate social responsibility policies. This helps thecompanies consider the development of a safe working environment aspart of their responsibilities to the society as well as the rest oftheir stakeholders. An organization that includes measures forprotection of employees from any form of maltreatment in theircorporate social responsibility policies do not rely on theprovisions of the laws since they are guided by moral as well asethical motives. Apart from enhancing the safety of the stakeholders,such organizations benefit from the policies since they areconsidered as employers of choice.

Disciplinaryprocedure is one of the key components of a policy developed by thecompany. An effective policy sets out the procedure that should beused to punish employees who bully their coworkers. This implies thatboth the bully and the victim can predict the outcome or the type ofpunishment that they should expect from their employer (Sugeno,2013). Additionally, disciplinary measures established by companiesenhance fairness by ensuring that the complainant and the accusedpersons are treated fairly. The measures outlined in the companypolicies ensure that the penalty given to the bully is reasonable andit takes account of the previous disciplinary records. Some of themost common types of disciplinary measures that have been shown to beeffective include suspension, written warnings, and transfer. Thepossibility of helping the bully change the behavior depends on thecapacity of the management to establish the link between thepunishment and wrong actions.

Anti-HarassmentTraining Programs

Trainingprograms that are designed with the objective of helping theorganizations deal with harassment focus on increasing the employeecoping skills and increasing their ability to comprehend the impactof their actions on others. The effectiveness of the trainingprograms is associated with the fact that many people are unaware ofhow their actions affect other peers (Georgakopoulos, Wilkin &ampKent, 2011). This implies that some employees and manages harasstheir coworkers without knowing that their actions have negativeimpacts on them. For example, some people have poor interpersonalskills, aggressive behaviors, and cultural misconceptions that act asthe root causes of bullying at places of work. The act of pairingthese forceful personalities with people who lack proper socialskills or have low self-esteem results in unintentional bullying.

Therole of training programs is to provide a common definition ofworkplace harassment and its root causes. Effective training programsequip the stakeholders with the proper communication as well as theinterpersonal skills that help them avoid the abuse of powerimbalance (Georgakopoulos, Wilkin &amp Kent, 2011). In addition, thetraining programs help the concerned parties comprehend theassociation between harassment and the mixture of weak and strongpersonalities. A study conducted by Georgakopoulos, Wilkin &amp Kent(2011) with the objective of establishing the association between theprevalence of harassment and staff training program revealed thatharassment at the places of work result from behavioral, cognitive,and developmental factors. This implies that effective trainingprograms help people change the way they think, perceive their workenvironment as well as their co-workers, and behave while in theirworkplaces. The findings reported by Georgakopoulos, Wilkin &ampKent (2011) indicated that a mere existence of anti-harassmentpolicies may not be sufficient since some members of staff andmanagers may not be able to put rules and procedures into practiceswithout being enlightened about them. A well designed trainingprogram promotes safety, health, and harmonious working environmentwhere all people are valued and respected, irrespective of their jobranks or roles in the organization.

InformalProcedures Facilitated By the Management

Althoughthe majority of the organizations use formal procedures to addressall issues, the application of informal methods in dealing withharassment at work has become a key area of interest for researchersand scholars. Informal procedures are preferred when the managementdoes not intend to apply mechanisms that are stressful to people whohave been harassed (McKay, 2011). An effective informal mechanism fordealing with harassment involves the application of a conciliatoryapproach that brings together the bully, the victim, and members ofthe management team who are given the responsibility of resolving theissue. An informal procedure is more effective in maintaining asuitable working relationship between the bully and the victim afterthe incident than the formal mechanisms.

Researchersand scholars who support the use of informal approaches in dealingwith cases of harassment hold that they create an environment inwhich the parties involved can speak openly (McKay, 2011).Additionally, the management can prevent the risk of occurrence ofharassment by organizing informal gatherings (such as parties) wherethe members of staff and managers can meet and understand each other.Informal gatherings help the managers and employees learn about thepersonalities of each other, which helps them understand how to treattheir co-workers in the formal settings. However, studies have shownthat the effectiveness of informal mechanisms is limited to cases ofmaltreatment that are unintentional or mild (McKay, 2011). Theapplication of informal discussions to deal with incidents ofharassment in which the victims have been traumatized triggers traumaresponses when the affected people remember that they will meet andhold a conversation with their aggressors. In addition, informalprocedures increase the probability of subjective judgments from themanagement. Although informal approaches can work in allwork-relations, studies have shown that power imbalances can limittheir effectiveness (McKay, 2011). For example, it is quitechallenging to organize an informal discussion when a manager hasharassed a junior member of staff.

AlternativeDispute Resolution (ADR) Programs Sponsored By the Employer

TheADR programs help organizations that experience cases of harassmentavoid using the formal judicial procedures. This is a benefit to theorganization, parties involved in a dispute, and the judicial system.According to Carbo (2013) the ADR programs that are supported by theemployer are increasingly gaining popularity because they accommodateall employees, including the low-income earners. For example, amandatory arbitration program does not require the affected partiesto hire lawyers, which creates a fair platform for both the bully andthe victim. These ADR mechanisms address the issue of power imbalancethat limit the effectiveness of other measures, such as informalapproaches. In addition, employer initiatives facilitate thearbitration of cases that do not meet the threshold of the nationalas well as the state tribunals. For example, employees are forced todemonstrate that any complaint that is presented to the nationaltribunal involves an issue that resulted in adverse effect on theiremployment (Carbo, 2013). However, there are minor cases of bullyingthat might affect employees’ well-being, but fails to meet thisthreshold. This creates the need for employer initiatives to addresscases that may not be handled through external mechanisms.

Theavailable studies indicate that ADR programs are more effective andfaster in addressing incidents of workplace bullying. A studyconducted to compare the effectiveness of the court system andarbitration procedures indicated that employees who go through theADR programs have about 63 % of their cases settled in a fair waycompared to 14.9 % of the bullying incidents that are resolved viathe judiciary (Mao, 2013). This suggests that victims of bullying aremore likely to find justice from ADR than the court system. Moreover,the perception held by employees that ADR programs are moreaccessible than the court system helps them feel that the settlementsreached with the help of the employer gives them a fair hearing. Thisensures that the relationship between the victim and the bully isrestored. Although ADR programs are more accessible and costeffective, their application is limited to minor cases, while themost serious incidents of bullying are subjected to the judicialsystem.


Grievancearbitration is considered as one of the key alternatives thatemployers can use to eradicate bullying and restore dignity at work.The majority of the organizations that apply the grievancearbitration method use the human rights approach that assumes thenature of CBA Carbo (2013). This approach is preferred because itfills the gaps left in the definition of the term “harassment”.The level of severity is often reduced and more focus made ondefenses made by the employer. This allows the parties in thenegotiation to consider all outcomes of the bullying, instead oftaking account of the effects that it has on work-related issues. Thefact that issues that are not related to employment are consideredunder the grievance arbitration approach makes it possible foremployees to file cases that may not be addressed in the nationaltribunals (Carbo, 2013). Employees have a perception that grievancearbitration is more accessible to them compared to the court system.

Aneffective grievance arbitration process occurs when the employertakes the initiative to put in place procedures that allow employeesto challenge actions taken by the company. This idea is based on anotion that the company may take actions that are bullying in naturewithout realization, which creates the need for employees to airtheir views when they feel that their employer is harassing them(Polster, 2011). Employers are under pressure to govern their firmsfairly and avoid discrimination in their places of work. Grievancearbitration serves as a significant strategy through which employerscan avoid litigation and employees can find justice, thus providing amiddle ground for a bully employer and the members of staff.


Thepresent study indicates that employers have a wide range ofmechanisms that they can use to deal with cases of bullying at theplaces of work. However, this paper recommends three of themechanisms that are considered as the most effective andcomprehensive.

Establishmentof policies:The development of effective policies should be a priority for anyorganization. The management should ensure that the anti-harassmentpolicy provides guidelines for prevention and handling of cases ofbullying when they occur. For example, the policy should indicate aspecific penalty for each type of harassment. Additionally, thepolicy will provide guidelines on the types of bullying that may besubjected to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Thepossibility of deterring harassment by establishing policies is basedon the idea that harassers will be able predict the possible outcomeof their actions before they engage in bullying activities (Sugeno,2013). However, the guidelines provided by the policy should create aplatform that facilitates a fair treatment of both the people makinga claim of harassment and the accused person. This is the only waythat the management can use to ensure that the policy facilitates achange of behavior and the establishment of a safe workplace.

Regularand mandatory anti-harassment training programs:Although over 70 % of the organizations consider anti-harassmentpolicies to be the most effective tools for dealing with the cases ofworkplace bullying, training programs can help them minimizeincidents of unintentional maltreatment (Sugeno, 2013). Employersshould organize training programs that focus on enlightening theiremployees on behaviors that could offend others unintentionally. Thetraining programs should be preceded by the needs assessment, whichwill allow the employer to determine the skills gap among theworkforce. For example, a training program that helps employeesunderstanding the existence of different personalities and how theylead to bullying will minimize cases of unintentional harassment.Training programs should be delivered regularly in order to ensurethat all gaps regarding the issue of bullying are filledcontinuously.

Alternativedispute resolution programs:Although company policies and training programs are effective toolsused to deter the occurrence of harassment at work, a few cases maybe reported once in a while. To this end, organizations should adoptalternative mechanisms that can help them resolve these cases insteadof subjecting all incidents to the court system. Organization shouldform internal committees to deal with complaints that result fromharassment. The committee should be comprised of members from themanagement and junior workforce in order to ensure that all membersof staff feel secure when raising their complaints. The benefits ofusing alternative mechanisms to deal with bullying at workplacesinclude a reduction in cost of addressing internal issues, protectionof the image of the organization, and the establishment of a goodworking relationship between the victim and the bully following theincidents of harassment.


Theprevalence of workplace harassment has been increasing, in spite ofthe fact that the government has made laws to pressure employers toestablish workplaces that are safe for all workers. The most commonforms of bullying include sexual, gender, ethnic, and religions.Although the rates of prevalence of workplace harassment varydepending on the dentition that a scholar used to conduct the study,all research findings conclude that the menace a commonplacephenomenon. There are many strategies that have been proposed aseffective methods of dealing with cases of harassment, but three ofthem are more effective. The establishment of anti-harassmentpolicies can provide proper guidance for employers to prevent andresolve incidents of harassment. In addition, implementation of theanti-harassment training programs can prevent the occurrence ofunintentional bullying. Moreover, organizations can reduce the riskof litigation by using alternative methods of resolving internaldisputes that involve the harassment of their members of staff.


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