Preventing bullying, harassment and discrimination

Preventing bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace starts with building the right culture and developing appropriate policies.

Creating the right culture

Work environments should be free from intimidation and inappropriate behaviour.

It is the employer’s responsibility to take steps to ensure that employees are safe and free from bullying, harassment and discrimination at work. Building a positive workplace culture that promotes respect is an important part of this.

Complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination should be investigated straight away by the employer, and the person who has been subjected to the behaviour should be supported appropriately by the organisation. If the employer does not deal quickly with complaints, this can become ’normal’ and it will become harder to change in the future.

Workplace policies set behaviour expectations in the workplace — however, if managers are seen to tolerate inappropriate behaviour from employees or customers, this culture may mean employees do not feel comfortable raising issues even when there is a policy.

Employers should lead by example in demonstrating the desired culture of their workplace, creating an environment where employees know what appropriate behaviour and treating others with respect looks like.

Training and information should be provided for managers so that there are enough people equipped to deal sensitively and appropriately with any complaints. Smaller organisations can join with other employers who work in the same industry, or an employers’ association, to do training together at a reduced cost. This approach could also be used when developing workplace policies and processes.

Employer rights and responsibilities

Developing appropriate policies

Many workplaces have bullying, harassment and discrimination policies with defined procedures to try to resolve these issues internally. These policies usually include definitions of each of the categories and give clear guidance about unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. They also clarify rights and obligations, which helps to protect both employees and managers.

A policy on bullying, discrimination and harassment should:

  • clearly state that bullying, discrimination or harassment is never acceptable at any level of the organisation, and that all employees are expected to show respect to each other
  • be actively supported by the senior managers of the organisation, including modelling respectful behaviours themselves at work
  • have a reporting process that is clear and makes it easy for employees to get help — consulting with employees on the policy and procedures will help to make sure it is appropriate
  • provide support for employees who make a complaint
  • ensure that each complaint is investigated sensitively, objectively, thoroughly, and in a timely way
  • ensure that confidentiality is maintained by all parties involved.
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