Preventing Workplace Harassment (initially published Winter 1996)

One of an organization’s worst nightmares is negative publicity. No organization wants or needs the public to learn that harassment or discrimination has occurred inside its doors. Even if the allegations of harassment or discrimination are “not substantiated” at a later date, people will still remember the headlines. In short, the public trust has been damaged.

Some organizations do nothing more than keep their fingers crossed that harassment and/or discrimination will not occur; for them developing a policy is simply not a priority. Others have policies that are significantly out of date, limited only to sexual harassment or not in keeping with current human rights legislation. Others have solid policies that do nothing more than gather dust on a shelf. In this instance very few employees know about or behave in the workplace in accordance with the policy.

Developing and maintaining a policy on harassment and discrimination prevention pays handsome dividends. The chances of the public gaining a negative impression about the organization are reduced considerably. The public trust remains untarnished. Costly litigation is avoided. The employees of the organization are able to work in a safe and healthy workplace where they are respected and valued. Absenteeism, poor performance and internal conflicts are minimized.

Consider the following example: A woman employee was harassed over a period of 14 years by a male co-worker who constantly criticized her work, denigrated her sexuality and degraded her as a woman. She was subjected to constant negative comments with regard to both her person and her performance. Often referring to her as a “fat cow,” he told her that women should be at home looking after the children, just like his wife. The woman complained to the manager of operations on several occasions but he did nothing to stop the offensive behaviour. Eventually the woman resigned. A Human Rights Board of Inquiry found the person who harassed her, the manager, and the company jointly and severally liable.

There are several important components to this real life example of harassment. The harassed employee had to endure many years of unwelcome and harmful treatment until she could stand it no longer and quit. The harasser, the manager and the company were liable for some $48,000. compensation for lost wages and general damages. The company learned the hard way that as an employer it has the authority and duty to prevent wrongful conduct in the workplace.

Now is as good a time as ever for you to examine your harassment and discrimination prevention policy. It is an issue to be taken seriously. Ensure that your managers and supervisors understand what is required of them. No one wants to be found to be condoning harassment or discrimination because they did not know. Invest in training so that all employees know their rights, roles and responsibilities.

If you are interested in reducing the costs of possible litigation, making your workplace a better place to work and dealing with change more effectively, why not take a few minutes to discuss your options with Monika B. Jensen, Principal at the Aviary Group?

Tips on Harassment Prevention
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”


  • Educate and empower every employee.
  • The individual who directly experiences harassment or discrimination within an organization must first realize that they are not powerless.
  • Publicize your organization’s harassment prevention policy widely.
  • Support from the top is essential. Lead by example.
  • Do not ignore the need for reconciliation after a situation has occurred.
  • Few organizations can afford the costly litigation, negative publicity and declines in productivity that can occur when discrimination and harassment are not dealt with in the workplace.
  • Bargaining unit support can be crucial to the success

Need assistance in developing or revising your organization’s policy? Need training? Need someone neutral to facilitate conflict resolution or mediation? The Aviary Group may have just what you need.

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