It doesn’t matter what your occupation is, harassment in the workplace is a common occurrence. Below you’ll learn what constitutes as workplace harassment and 4 steps you can take to help your business recover after a harassment investigation or claim.
Thanks to regulations in Canada, all workers are entitled to a safe and healthy workplace. Systems are now in place for employees to file complaints and seek resolutions, including disciplinary actions up to and including termination and criminal charges.
However, the effects of workplace harassment can be felt long after the initial conflict has been resolved, or disciplinary actions are taken.
As a business owner, you need to answer the questions: “Is the harassment complaint a sign of more substantial and prevalent issues that were not reported? Is there a deeper problem with the overall workplace environment?”
You need to be aware of any lingering resentment and distrust among employees following a harassment complaint. This can have a negative impact not only on the wellness of the employees directly involved but the overall work environment and the ability of the company to function effectively.
At Bridge Legal & HR Solutions, as unbiased investigators of harassment claims, we have seen firsthand the rippling effect that a harassment claim in the workplace can have. Which is why we firmly believe workplace restoration is an important second step.
But before you can fix the problem, you need to understand what constitutes workplace harassment.
What Is Workplace Harassment?
In Ontario, and similarly elsewhere, workplace harassment is defined as engaging in vexatious comments, action, or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. This includes both verbal and physical harassment.
Workplace harassment can include not just employees from within the company, but other people a person may come in contact as part of their duties, including vendors or salespeople.
Some examples of workplace harassment include:
- Human rights violations, which may include discrimination, and failure to accommodate.
- Harassment or bullying in the workplace.
- Retaliation and reprisal complaints.
- Violence or threats of violence.
- Sexual harassment, including jokes and unwanted advances.
What are the Effects of Workplace Harassment?
There are many damaging effects of workplace harassment that can be far-reaching throughout the work environment.
These can include employee health risks that can ultimately lead to both mental and physical problems. Often these health issues will lead to job performance challenges, including lack of concentration, loss of motivation, and poor work quality.
In our experience, a thorough workplace harassment investigation can identify these issues through a comprehensive analysis.
By identifying issues, an organization can implement plans to rectify problems, be aware of any potential legal liabilities, and establish future employee protections.
Once the underlying issues have been identified, then you can start the process of helping your business recover.
What Is Workplace Restoration?
Workplace restoration is a process that works to alleviate the residual trauma in the workplace after a harassment event. Specifically, workplace restoration works to address the many feelings and emotions that employees may be dealing with after the fallout of a workplace harassment investigation. These may include:
- Broken relationships in and out of the workplace.
- Stress from harassment, organizational changes, and/or uncertainty.
- Feelings of distrust and anger, which can include feelings against other employees, management, and/or supervisors on how the situation was handled.
- Less productivity, creativity, and other issues from the damaged team dynamic and/or loss of personnel.
Who Is Involved in the Workplace Restoration Process?
The process for any workplace restoration will vary on a variety of factors. However, in many cases there will be parties involved in both mediation as well as investigating the former and current issues that need to be resolved. Some of the parties that are often involved in the workplace restoration process are highlighted below.
The person or persons overseeing the employees involved in the harassment complaint and the people who were impacted by it are important to the entire process of workplace restoration. It remains critical that management showcases a leadership role to all employees about the seriousness of workplace harassment, as well as the commitment to re-establishing trust among employees.
- Parties Involved in the Workplace Harassment
The parties involved in the workplace harassment will be the two or more people who were directly involved in the harassment complaint. It is important to listen and respect their needs and interests to both reach a resolution, but also understand the underlying causes and prevent these situations from occurring again in the future.
- Other Employees in the Company Affected by the Workplace Harassment
Oftentimes, when workplace harassment occurs, it will affect those working in and around the parties involved. It is important to ensure any third parties involved with a complaint understand their responsibility around professionalism, confidentiality, and privacy. Discussions and gossip about a process should be addressed by management (or Human Resources) to ensure there is no on-going discussion about a private situation.
4 Steps to Workplace Restoration
Workplace restoration is part of a lengthy Harassment Resolution Process and the key step to returning the workplace to a safe and healthy environment for employees. While the full process can be very detailed, here are 4 simple steps to get you started:
1. Understand the Resources Available
The first step is for management, after a workplace harassment incident, is to familiarize themselves with the resources available on workplace restoration. A complete analysis needs to be made regarding specific reasons why the situation occurred, how it should be handled, and the consequences decided in a detailed plan of action.
This is where the team at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can become invaluable to a company. With our wealth of knowledge and experience, our experienced legal team can guide one through the process and be your experienced source of advice.
2. Work Directly with the Parties Involved
The second step involves working directly with the Complainant and Respondent. This step is a delicate balance of listening to complaints while maintaining impartiality, while adhering to the law if any criminal acts have been committed.
At the end of an investigation, parties should be advised of the outcomes and results. Depending on the severity of the complaint, disciplinary action may be taken, up to and including termination, as well as reporting criminal acts to law enforcement.
Partnering with Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can provide impartial insight and promote communication during this important process.
3. Work With Other Employees Affected by Workplace Harassment
The third step is working with other employees affected by the workplace harassment claim.
Specific details about the outcome of an investigation/complaint would not be communicated to third parties, however, there should be open communication to any changes of policy, organization, or group dynamics moving forward. Resources should be made available to assist employees in re-establishing a respectful workplace.
Some examples may include round table meetings, one-on-one interviews to assess work culture issues, and mediation between employees and management.
Keeping this communication a two-way street is key. Use it to find out how the group dynamics have been affected and discover any other issues under the surface or possibly more cases of harassment not reported.
This open communication and exchange can promote a positive working relationship and foster an environment of respect for others, as well as determining what challenges may lie ahead.
4. Revisit the Issue Later to Determine if More Measures Are Needed
The final step is to always follow-up at a later time. This is to confirm that all challenges and problems have been resolved, identify what was learned from the experience, and identify and implement preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of harassment in the future.
How Can Bridge Legal & HR Solutions Help?
The process of a workplace harassment investigation, as well as workplace restoration in Canada can be confusing, expensive, time-consuming, and include complex and nuanced legal obligations to navigate through.
During this overwhelming and challenging time, Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can provide your company with an experienced, guiding hand. It can be difficult to heal the hurt and damage caused by harassment and toxicity in the workplace. Professional, objective lawyers can help restore your workplace and make recommendations to prevent future incidents. Call us today, at 647-794-5442, to find out how we can help you.