Workplace harassment: An employer’s guide

Harassment & discrimination

Workplace harassment claims are a frustrating tactic in the workplace, particularly in performance management.

As employees’ awareness of employer obligations around workplace harassment prevention grows, employers are finding it difficult to manage the frequency of claims of ‘bullying’ and ‘workplace harassment’.

So what is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment is unwelcome conduct – this means just because you don’t consider the conduct unwelcome; doesn’t mean it isn’t! It is conduct where a reasonable person would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Repetition is required however, so a one off incident is not going to trigger a claim of workplace harassment, neither is reasonable performance management processes. Difficulties arise when there is banter at a workplace, initial participation and/or a previous relationship where the behaviour was initially accepted or tolerated.

What constitutes workplace harassment?

  • Verbal abuse or comments that degrade/stereotype people
  • Derogatory or demeaning jokes/comments/anecdotes
  • Mocking of someone’s accent, customs or culture habits
  • Excluding a person or group because of their race, sexuality pregnancy etc.

How to manage/mitigate your risk to a workplace harassment claim

Your number one point of action is to implement a current and compliance bullying and harassment policy. You need to foster a bullying and harassment free workplace! These policies need to be strictly adhered to and enforced, with strict consequences for non-compliance.

Where issues do arise with the workplace harassment realm, the importance is placed on “nipping it into bud.” This involves recording, reporting and investigating instances that do arise, and by entering into a disciplinary process if necessary. Your employees need to know that the behaviour will not be tolerated.


But are there any commercial consequences if I let bullying and workplace harassment continue? How can it really affect my commerciality?

Wasted resources

You are going to waste resources, time and MONEY reviewing complaints and issues. Your HR team (if you have one) will be spending time going through complaints and may even need to engage lawyers to deal with serious claims on your behalf. This can be incredibly costly and will cut into the overall running costs of your business.

Reputation/Brand damage

Studies reveal that when you damage a business’ brand, you ultimately reduce the customer/client base as well as the potential pool of employees who won’t apply to work with you.

Breakdown of relationships

Workplace harassment will not only affect the relationship between the bully/harasser and the victim, but can strain relationships with other employees and the company.

Impact upon a workers health and wellbeing

Minimising any risk to an employee’s health and safety is paramount. This means minimising the potential for a workers compensation claim and/or an application to stop bullying within the Fair Work Commission. Not only do these claims cause stress on your employees, but they also put financial pressure on your business.

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