Workplace Harassment and the Legal Provisions

Dr. Purushothaman
December 6, 2013

Nature of harassment

All western countries like the US & Europe, as well as many others in the rest of the world, have passed culturally relevant laws to protect victims of intentional workplace harassment by way of discrimination, persecution of an employee on the basis of race, color, religion, origin or gender wherein no employer can cause to suffer harassment of an employee when recruiting, interviewing, promoting, discharging, compensating, etc. If such factors lead to difficulty in performing assigned tasks the employee is justified to feel he or she is working in a hostile environment.

Legal provisions

Whenever a situation of such workplace harassment arises, its incidence is evaluated against certain parameters, the totality of which must justify any legally actionable cause of action. However to qualify as harassment from hostile work environment one underlying principle of justice needs to prevail, that of continuity or repetition, and its frequency, severity and pervasiveness, which implies that just one or isolated incidents will not satisfy the burden of proof of the complainant for attracting legal provisions for protection. Another aspect of the complaint to be considered is whether the management was aware, if not being the cause, of the harassment of the employee, but refused, or ignored to act, in stopping the process. Further, the harassment caused would have to be caused within, or be carried into, the workplace and be of a kind that would be distressing for all others and not only to the victim's own sensitivity.

Management stand

To make the process victim-friendly, currently employers have acknowledged the problem of vulnerability of productivity arising from employees suffering harassment from other employees and have instituted clear harassment recognition parameters along with reporting and evaluating systems that are designed to avoid incidents and entrap offenders. The more enlightened employers have even training programs to assist employees in understanding and accepting diverse foreign cultures and dispelling associated myths within the office environment. Unfortunately there is no scope of raising acceptability levels when it comes to plain prejudice and the ubiquitous drive of the hormones.

Sexual harassment

As regards workplace harassment of a sexual character, the nomenclature may differ in place and culture but the universality of the underlying phenomenon prevails. The HR department should be the first point of reference in raising such issues. Crass lewdness and overt innuendo can both amount to harassment and both find credence in the list of offensive behavior, and confrontation can sometimes get immediate and amazing results. Do not be daunted by the challenge of raising an issue because it is the offender whose behavior is inappropriate, not your confrontation.


However let nobody forget that in the workplace, reality should form the basis of your actions. Be righteous by all means but do also remember that in history the righteous have suffered. Therefore when actually raising a workplace harassment issue, carefully weigh the seniority and corporate utility aspect of the offender because that would be prudent and, instead of relieving your problems, not add to them.

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