Harassment in the workplace

While violence and harassment are sadly common occurrences in social environments, it is not something that we generally expect to have to deal with in a work environment. Unfortunately, violence and harassment equally present in the workplace.

Workplace violence is most often thought of as a physical attack or threat on a co-worker but can be much more than a physical attack. The problem is that can be difficult to identify as sometimes, it presents in a subtle way. By this we mean that this is when a person is not just assaulted but also abuse, threats and intimidation. We can also call this workplace harassment.

Harassment in the workplace violence and harassment includes:

•     Threatening behaviour: example-shaking fists, damaging or destroying property or equipment, or throwing objects.

•     Verbal or written threats: example: being told that you had better do something “or else”, being told that your behaviour will be reported to a senior person or other person of authority

•     Verbal abuse – swearing, insults or condescending language, example: being told that you are stupid

  • Physical attacks – hitting, pushing, punching, slapping or kicking.

These are also more serious forms, but the most common and basic types of harassment are verbal and psychological.

The most common types of harassment in the workplace are verbal and psychological because it is easy for someone to get away with this type of harassment: it is more difficult to prove & more difficult to identify. Without a witness, someone who has been verbally or psychological threatened or harassed, might not even realise that they have been harassed, especially if that person is used to being spoken to in a certain way, for various reasons.

It can be seen when a person abuses their position within the company as a way of persuading someone else to do what they want them to do, because of their perceived power or position in the company.  This is victimisation; we also see this when a senior person, or person in authority takes advantage of their status by commenting on another person’s lack of status. They may falsely accuse them of not working hard or well enough, or telling them that their work is bad because of a lack of brainpower or that they will not be considered for a position in the company, or forcing them to resign because of their lack of brain power.

What can the employee do about it?

Every individual has the right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace and this right must be protected and enforced by the company who has the duty, in terms of Health and Safety, to protect their employees from all forms of harassment. Harassment can also, constitute an unfair discrimination, which it almost most of the time is.

Employees are encouraged to report, preferably in writing, all forms of violence, harassment and discrimination in the workplace, to the relevant people. Any person who threatens another co-worker verbally, with violence can be reported to the police.