Workplace harassment and bullying have no room in our workplaces. They have a detrimental effect on the mental health and well being of employees. When left unchecked, harassment has the potential to escalate to violence. And ultimately, bullying and harassment result in high staff turnover, employee illness and absenteeism as well as reduced productivity. These are some of the many reasons why every workplace requires a comprehensive Workplace Harassment Policy.
Implementing your Workplace Harassment Policy
The Ministry of Labour offers guidelines to help you implement one. In general, your policy should foster an Internal Responsibility System (IRS) where everyone in the organization are stakeholders.
The IRS acts like a strong chain connecting everyone in the organization. Workers have a duty to report unsafe and unhealthy work conditions. Their supervisors support them with an obligation to address those situations. However, senior management holds the greatest responsibility in an IRS. They develop the policy, communicate it and ensure it works. Here are the main steps you need to take to implement a Workplace Harassment Policy.
1) Develop your Workplace Harassment Policy
Draft your Workplace Harassment Policy in clear, unambiguous language. Loading it with legal jargon may be counterproductive because, in order for it to work, all your employees must understand and get behind it.
Follow the Ministry of Labour guidelines to craft it for compliance. Ensure you describe what constitutes harassment by citing scenarios. Remember, Canadian workplaces include people from diverse backgrounds. It is, therefore, very important to describe scenarios specifically to ensure everyone is clear about the type of culture you want to foster. And more importantly, you must also identify behaviour and work conditions you will not tolerate.
Your policy must include instructions on how employees can file a confidential complaint without fear of retribution. And it should also confirm your commitment to investigate and take corrective action.
Finally, the policy must be dated and signed by the highest level manager at the organization, posted publicly where everyone can see it and reviewed, at least, annually.
2) Implementing a Workplace Harassment Program
A Workplace Harassment Program includes all the semantics to ensure your policy works. You can appoint a joint health and safety committee or representative to head the program.
These individuals will manage the process to ensure complaints are addressed objectively and impartially. For example, your procedures should never force an employee to file a complaint with a supervisor, who might also be the harasser. In addition, the harasser should not have control over the person receiving the complaint or conducting the investigation.
Your team must manage the process to ensure it functions with integrity. Often, large organizations opt to outsource complaint resolution to external outplacement companies for this reason. And, in instances of a suspected criminal breach, they will call in legal service providers. This is precisely how the CBC dealt with allegations of harassment by star employee, Jian Ghomeshi.
3) Conducting Investigations
All complaints must be investigated as appropriate for the circumstance. You must articulate who will conduct the investigation, what they will do and how they will communicate the results back to the complainant and management. All the while, the complainants and witnesses will require your assurance of confidentiality and privacy.
Unless you have extenuating circumstances, you must complete this investigation within 90 days with a written conclusion, based on facts. A designated person with authority must receive this report and take appropriate action.
Why Implement a Workplace Harassment Policy?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) enshrines in law, your employees’ right to a safe workplace. This law covers a broad range of issues, ranging from health and safety to bullying, harassment, violence as well as sexual harassment. In fact, in some instances it also requires employers to ensure employees remain safe at work from threats originating from domestic violence and abuse.
The bottom line is, that as an employer, you carry a legal obligation to provide a safe environment for your workers. And this extends beyond physical safety. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) recently updated their policies to recognize chronic mental stress as an eligible condition for benefits. Consequently, you must treat your staff with dignity and respect and ensure their workload remains manageable for both their physical as well as emotional well being.
Susan Heim is the president of Equity Career Transition and Outplacement Services, offering personalized coaching services for individuals in their quest for the perfect job and career. Equity also provides cost-effective outplacement services for organizations, large and small, in both the private and public sector. Contact us for a quote.
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