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Harassment, bullying or leadership?


The #metoo movement has created a lot of publicity and brought harassing behaviors back into the spotlight. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has broadened the number of protected groups it covers. New to the protected status list are: Genetic Information (like a DNA test that shows a predisposition to an ailment), Retaliation, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Pregnancy.

Harassment is illegal. The broader definition includes “unwelcome” and “unwanted”. The definition from website is: “Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” It is recommended to define some of these terms in a training session. What is “offensive” to one individual may not be considered offensive by another. Help your employees understand that the determination of what is “offensive” is made by the victim or the by-stander(s). What makes the behavior “severe or pervasive” should also be defined and discussed in the training session. Otherwise you may have people filing complaints for petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents, which do not fit the definition of harassing behavior. “To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”

Again, continues with definitions like “The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.” (emphasis added) So, when an “offensive” remark is made in the cafeteria for example, anyone in the room could determine that they are offended, not just the intended recipient of the remark, joke, or comment.

Negativity is expensive and even the smallest act can hurt the organization. Employees who experience a negative work environment are less productive, more likely to quit, and open the organization to potential litigation.

Positivity has a lot of beneficial effects. Employees who are engaged and happy at work are more loyal and are therefore more productive and better performers. A positive work environment encourages employees to speak up when they feel that others have acted inappropriately.

“Nothing bad has ever come out of a positive workplace culture” – Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Civility Partners

Bullying is meant to humiliate, degrade, offend, control, intimidate and/or manipulate. Both harassment and bullying affect the entire workplace. The difference between these two behaviors is harassment is illegal because it affects a protected status individual(s), because of its frequency and severity and the fact that it is unwelcome and unwanted. My rule for employee, leadership, and supervisory behavior: Is it respectful and work-related?

Teach your employees to stand up for themselves and for the victim by letting the harasser and/or bully know that the conduct is unwelcome and unwanted. Make the harasser aware of what is unlawful or inappropriate and give them an opportunity to change/stop the offending behavior.

Supervisors and leaders within your organization should encourage individuals to speak up. Thank them for bringing attention to the inappropriate and/or unlawful conduct. Employees and leadership contribute greatly to the workplace environment, so everyone should help to create a positive environment within which to work. Look for a balance between positive relationship with employees and appropriate boundaries. There are lots of ways to have fun and joke appropriately at work.

Quality supervision/leadership includes setting the standard and setting the example of appropriate behavior. Supervisors and Leaders look for and use “teachable moments” with employees, co-workers, and other leaders in the organization. Find ways to empower witnesses and victims to intervene when harassing or bullying behavior is exhibited. Instead of “motivating”, try inspiring your employees with quality supervision and guidance given in a positive way.

Live training with an instructor has been recommended as the most effective method for getting your company policy and points across to the employees. It reduces bullying, harassing behavior and helps create a positive work environment where employees feel empowered to speak up for themselves and/or for the victims of negative and/or illegal behavior. This training, like safety training, is best when done annually and in a participatory session.

Source credit: Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, International speaker, author, consultant and trainer Civility Partners

Christine Schneider Smith is president of the business consulting firm CASS Enterprises, 1499 W. Cole Road, Fremont,


Author Christine Schneider Smith recently attended the Global Leadership Summit in Findlay. Below are a few ideas and quotes she gleaned from the speakers:

“Listen. Learn. Lead.” – John C. Maxwell

“The Wright Brothers took the plane from Dayton to Kitty Hawk because it had the ‘right wind.’ Good ideas still need the right wind to fly within an organization.” – T.D. Jakes

“Celebrate mistakes! Debrief and Learn. The price of inaction is higher than the price of making a mistake. Every decision results in a blessing or a lesson.” – Carla Harris, author of Expect to Win and Strategize to Win.

“The road to success is paved with mistakes well-handled.” – Danny Meyer

“Freedom is on the other side of your fears. Greatness is on the other side of your pain. What you fear has mastery over your life. You have to go through the pain to reach your greatness.” – Edwin McManus

“Challenges are stepping stones to lead you to a better place.” – Dr. Nthabiseng Legoete