Know workplace violence, discrimination and harassment

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By the Human Resource Professionals of Antigua and Barbuda

A sharp “cut-eye”. A snide remark. A vicious rumour. An inappropriate touch.

According to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention C190, the term “violence and harassment” in the world of work refers to a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.

The term “gender-based violence and harassment” means violence and harassment directed at persons because of their sex or gender or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately and includes sexual harassment.

If we are honest, we all know victims of workplace harassment and probably that victim may have been you. Maybe you were on a workplace trip or a work-related social event when it happened. Or maybe on that evening when you clocked a few extra hours and there were no witnesses. 

The resultant feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hurt, bitterness and anguish are all too common in our occupational spaces.

As Antigua and Barbuda considers the ratification of the ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, HRPAB invites you to learn the basics of this very relevant issue.

Violence and harassment in the workplace may raise their heads in multiple forms. It may be physical in the form of unwanted and offensive physical conduct such as “shoving” an employee.

Harassment may also be psychological where antagonism towards the victim usually results in their diminished self-worth. In this instance, a malicious rumour about one’s personal life may suffice as an example.

Sexual harassment includes offensive and inappropriate advances or behaviour that is unwelcomed by the victim.  An example is an unwanted and sensual caress by one worker to another.

Another form is verbal where words are used to intimidate and demean a victim.  Examples include shouting at an employee in the presence of customers.

So why should organisations care about violence and harassment in the workplace?  Research shows that if these two beasts are not kept at bay, their effects will be far-reaching and hazardous to any organization, regardless of the industry. 

For instance, harassment leads to a demotivated and disengaged workforce, increased absenteeism and tardiness, high employee turnover, decreased productivity, a tarnished public image and the list goes on. There is nothing positive about a violent and harassed workforce.

So, what can your organisation do to reduce the likelihood of violence and harassment in the workplace?  Here are a few practical tips.

Firstly, acquaint yourself fully with the ILO’s Convention on Violence and Harassment so that you are aware of your obligations.

Become a member of a local, regional and international HR association (such as the Human Resource Professionals of Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean Society of Human Resources Professionals and the Society for Human Resource Management) to stay abreast of anti-harassment best practices.

Develop an anti-harassment policy and enforce it.  If you operate within a unionized environment, have a discussion with your union representative and ensure that a whistleblowing statement and anti-harassment processes are included in your collective bargaining agreement.  If you are not unionized, contact a Labour Officer to receive guidance on this activity.

Then, introduce incentives for employees who foster positive and inclusive workplace behaviours and implement sufficient and relevant consequences for deviant behaviours.

Finally, become an advocate for victims of violence and harassment and lobby your parliamentary representative to enact legislation against occupational violence and harassment.

It is said that ignorance is bliss but we respectfully disagree with this sentiment.  The more we know about workplace violence, discrimination and harassment, the more equipped we will be to engender positive and inclusive workforces.

The Human Resource Professionals of Antigua and Barbuda (HRPAB) is a registered non-profit, professional association dedicated to the advancement of the HR profession for national development. We began informally in 2009 and legally registered in 2011. HRPAB’s growing membership represents private and public organisations as well as independent consultants specializing in one or more areas of human resource management and development. Membership is offered for three categories: professional, non-professional, and honorary. You may contact us via email at [email protected] or on Facebook and Instagram @HRPro268.

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