Workplace harassment is one type of discriminatory practice that directly violates the employee’s right to work. Working in a harmonious working environment, free of harassment and hostility, is a basic right of any employee. Despite that, a significant number of employees across genders complain of workplace harassment. Such abusive behavior or harassment can take many forms like –
- Verbal abuse
- Physical intimidation
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Bullying or hostile behaviour
- Racial discrimination
- Discrimination based on gender
- Discrimination based on age
- Religious discrimination
- Offensive jokes
This is why most companies have their employees sign legal contracts. This is done to protect the employees from workplace harassment and ensure them justice if someone comes to address or report such incidents.
Here we discuss certain rights with regard to workplace harassment that every employee should be aware of –
Right to a Safe Work Environment
Employees have the right to work in an environment free from harassment, discrimination, and any form of hostility. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe and inclusive workplace. Go through the legal documents thoroughly to understand the do’s and don’ts of the organization. Knowing your rights help you to protect yourself, as well as to understand what to avoid getting accused of such allegations.
Usually, all employees of registered organizations are protected by various federal, state, and local laws prohibiting workplace harassment. Workplace harassment laws get modified over time according to the requirement of the organization. They typically cover all kinds of workplace harassment, such as race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, and genetic information.
So, even if someone migrated from one place to another to work, they should make themselves familiar with the local laws thoroughly. There are many cultural differences that impact the local and state laws. For example, handshakes or pats on the back of a female employee may seem normal in the US, but it is frowned upon and prohibited in Islamic countries. So, knowing these small details ensure you get legal protection in the workplace.
Employers should have policies and procedures in place to address workplace harassment. Documenting all the anti-harassment rules protects the companies from unnecessary legal complications. Moreover, these policies also give a defined outline of what should be considered harassment. It must also provide reporting mechanisms and describe the steps the company should take to address any complaints.
The company policy should clearly state the hierarchy employees must follow to report any workplace harassment. Typically, if any employees experience harassment, they should report it to their immediate superior or a designated authority within the company. These complaints are typically done through a formal complaint process outlined in the company's policies. Employees should follow the reporting procedures and submit proof of incidents of harassment.
Confidentiality and Non-Retaliation
Employees also have the right to maintain confidentiality while reporting harassment. Employees often feel insecure while reporting harassment, especially if they are physically intimidating or sexual in nature. It is the responsibility of the employers to make their employees comfortable in such situations. They should make sincere efforts to keep the information as confidential as possible while investigating the complaint. Additionally, employees should be protected from retaliation for reporting harassment or participating in an investigation.
Investigation and Resolution
It is the right of every employee to get swift resolutions for their complaints. Similarly, it is the duty of employers to promptly and thoroughly investigate harassment complaints. The investigation process should be impartial and objective, and appropriate actions should be taken to address the situation. This may include disciplinary measures, training programs, or changes in the workplace as stated in the company policies.
If an employer fails to address workplace harassment adequately, employees may have legal remedies available. It is the legal right of the employee to file a complaint with a government agency if they fail to get a satisfactory resolution from their company. Government agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for the US or Equal Opportunities Commission look after the well-being of the employees. They even help the employees to get lawyers and file lawsuits against the employer if they deny helping their employees.
Here are a few things that employees can do if they experience harassment at the workplace –
- Report the incident to the supervisor or to the human resource executives. The employee should be forthcoming and should not shy away from sharing all the detail of the harassment, like who did it, when did it occur, if there were any witnesses or not, etc.
- Usually, every company has a specific TAT to respond to the employee after the initial investigation. If the HR representative doesn’t respond within that time, the employee has the right to escalate the complaint to higher management.
- According to the company policy, the employee must wait for a specific number of days for higher management to intervene. Post their approval, the company will start their preliminary investigation.
In certain situations, if the employer doesn’t take the necessary steps to address the complaint or delivers an unsatisfactory decision, the employee has the right to file a formal complaint to EEOC or similar agencies.
- The employee should submit all the documents and proofs of harassment while complaining to the EEOC. They must include all the necessary details like the time, date, and details of the incident. As proof, they can include witness testaments, which can improve the viability of the complaint. Once you have submitted everything, the agency will file a lawsuit against the company and force them to start an investigation against the accused.
During these times, the affected person may feel very vulnerable and should seek support from family, friends, or a counselor to cope with the emotional turmoil.
Workplace harassment is a major issue in every company, as it directly affects the well-being and performance of an employee. So, it is extremely important to familiarise yourself with the company rules and regulations so that you stay protected. So, go through this piece to know about your rights before working in a company. Consulting with an employment attorney or a relevant legal authority can provide further guidance in such situations.