Along with the perks of leadership, comes the risk of employees feeling like they’re being exposed to harassment, or treated unreasonably. This is especially true in the age of digital enlightenment.
Employees are learning more about their right to a safe workplace, free of bullying and harassment. Coupled with new OHS legislation, it’s unsurprising that the number of harassment claims is likely to increase.
Reasonable Employer Conduct
Bill 30 asserts that “Harassment does not include any reasonable conduct of an employer or supervisor related to the normal management of workers or a worksite”.
But what is reasonable employer conduct?
Many employees claim they are being harassed by their leader as a reaction to the pressure put on them during the performance management process. This doesn’t typically constitute harassment, however.
Likewise, employees often complain that they are not being treated ‘fairly’ or that others are given advantages in the workplace.
In our experience, there are cases where the actions of well-meaning managers do, in fact, fall into the realm of harassment.
The challenge is most managerial behaviours lie on a continuum of reasonable to unreasonable.
Here are 5 tips to help you avoid harassment claims made against managers in the workplace:
1. Develop Realistic Timelines
Developing a culture of using timelines for check-in, reviews, and the completion of projects is good practice. It is important that the timelines are realistic if you want to avoid harassment claims – and a culture of dissatisfied employees.
For instance, it is reasonable to expect immediate improvement in attendance.
Conversely, it is not reasonable to expect someone to have mastered a change in their communication style within one week.
2. Assess Performance Using Objective and Measurable Standards
Focusing on objective and measurable behaviours, not personal characteristics, will help you avoid harassment claims.
For example, it is reasonable to give examples of when the employee has missed deadlines. This is observable, can be objectively assessed, and does not reflect any assumptions about the employee’s character.
In contrast, it is not reasonable to tell the employee that they miss deadlines because they are lazy. This is not related to measurable behaviour.
3. Promote Unbiased Practices
Be aware of how you assign work to ensure there are no real or perceived biases.
It is reasonable to rotate the assignment of unpopular work. It is also reasonable to use the assignment of popular work or developmental opportunities as a reward for hard work or good performance.
That being said, it is not reasonable to consistently assign popular work to a few employees without explaining why.
It is also not reasonable to regularly overload someone with more work than is assigned to others. Beware! This applies to high performers who are often assigned more work than others.
4. Develop Consistent Supervisory Practices
Developing supervisory practices that mean you check in with all of your staff at regular and appropriate intervals is good for your business – and will help you avoid harassment claims.
For example, it is reasonable to frequently check in with:
- Someone new to your organization;
- An employee in a new role;
- Someone new to a specific type of deliverable; and/or
- Employees on performance plans.
Leaders should communicate that the oversight is to ensure their success. They should confirm that it will decrease over time.
It is not reasonable to closely monitor an employee’s work once they have demonstrated efficiency and capability. This is particularly true if one, or a select few, employees are being monitored while others are not.
Also, it is not reasonable to communicate that employees are being monitored because they are not capable or trusted to perform the work.
5. Be Consistent in Your Communications and Behaviour
Consistency in communications and behaviour isn’t just great for workplace harmony, it can help you avoid harassment claims.
Consider this: it is reasonable to tell everyone on your team that you cannot share certain information with them. Further, sharing information with some people on the team (and excluding others) can also be reasonable if there is a commercial purpose for doing so.
However, it is not reasonable to share information with some employees and not others where it would be useful to everyone on the team. Nor is it reasonable if there is no commercial reason.
Further, it is not reasonable to consistently exclude some employees from informal communication sessions. This includes sessions like coffee meetings and water cooler conversations.
Behaviours to Avoid in all Workplaces
It bears mentioning that some actions are never acceptable in the workplace. The following behaviours could result in a successful harassment complaint:
- Using overbearing body language
- Physically intimidating others
- Yelling or swearing AT people
- Any physical contact, other than an appropriate handshake
- Talking to employees about other employees
- Turning a blind eye to bullying or other inappropriate workplace behaviours
- Having personal, intimate relationships with employees
- Purposely excluding an individual or group
As a general rule, you should treat all employees consistently and with respect.
In circumstances where valid reasons for differential treatment exist, ensure you communicate them (if appropriate). You should also be able to validly explain the difference in treatment if questioned.
If you are uncertain, consider whether a reasonable person would deem your actions to be appropriate.
Maintaining a Healthy, Safe and Harassment-Free Workplace
This is the last article in our 8 part blog series on Bill 30. In this series, we have looked at ways to create and maintain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, free of harassment and violence.
To read the series from the beginning, click here.
Otherwise, if you have any questions or would like assistance implementing the items mentioned in this series, please contact ACTivate HR at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have been creating respectful workplaces and conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, and other employee issues for decades. We would love to partner with you.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:
Pointing Out Mistakes and Other Surprising Habits From Leaders of the Most Profitable Companies
The Worst Has Happened. Now What?
Effectively Investigating Workplace Bullying and Harassment Hazards and Incidents