Workplace Harassment and Bullying

Workplace bullying is frequently in the headlines these days, and there are worrisome signs that it is on the upsurge. Many organizations think that harassment, violence, and bullying do not affect their workplace, despite the staggering prevalence of these incidents. Conflicts will inevitably arise in life and every workplace. But it is the manner in which these issues are addressed that will make all the difference. Although women comprise the majority of victims in workplace bullying and harassment, men can also become victims. In addition, these behaviors affect employees across every background, regardless of race, income, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability.

Workplace bullying and harassment create a toxic work environment, resulting in a myriad of adverse effects like decreased productivity, increased use of sick days, damaged employee morale, and attrition of good employees. It can also result in significant legal liabilities. Considering all of these potential impacts, the tangible and intangible costs of workplace harassment and bullying can be high. This should be reason enough to motivate human resources practitioners to address such issues expeditiously. However, for those who are not inspired by practical business measures or healthy employee relations, we should consider the laws that protect employees from harassment and bullying and the significant liabilities that can arise when such issues are not adequately addressed. The implications of workplace bullying and harassment in the community the organization serves can be equally devastating. When human resources work to educate managers on how to identify, mediate, and ultimately prevent harassment and bullying, it is by far one of the most important ways an organization can end occurrences of the behavior.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Employees expect more from the organizations they work for these days – from nondiscriminatory, harassment-free workplaces to flexible schedules and benefits, work-life balance, and child care and family-friendly policies. Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment. They’re liable for any harassment suffered by their employees. Every instance should be considered and addressed on a case-by-case basis, with the goal always to be creating a peaceful and productive workplace.

How To Prevent Workplace Harassment & Bullying:

  • Like any workplace issue, fostering a culture that is free of harassment and bullying needs to come from the top down. Human resources practitioners must be proactive; first, they need to have a bullying and harassment policy in place, making it clear that this type of behavior is considered gross misconduct and that those found guilty will be terminated.
  • Human Resources practitioners must ensure that organizational policy is not a “tick box” exercise but a real commitment to building a working environment that values all employees.
  • Words alone won’t change a thing. Human Resources practitioners must take the next step to train their team leaders/managers and senior executives/directors to understand what constitutes bullying and harassing behavior. This is a good opportunity to reflect on management style, as well as build awareness of discrimination, characteristics which are often the precursor for ridicule.
  • Bullying and harassment may be verbal, non-verbal, written, or physical. It is, therefore, important that examples are laid out in a policy that ensures staff are not only aware of their own behavior but can take responsibility for it.


Coworkers, supervisors, contract workers, or labor representatives may all instigate workplace bullying. Some bullying situations involve employees bullying their peers, rather than a supervisor bullying an employee. Since Human Resources is the go-to department for dealing with harassment in the workplace, they must take a stand against bullying and harassment of all sorts and help to eliminate them. Of course, there are many ways to tackle this issue, from establishing harassment policies to instituting disciplinary actions. However, changing the company culture is one aspect of business that is becoming increasingly important when dealing with harassment in the workplace.

The overarching principle is that every employee, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, to balance their career and family life, and to live without the fear of abuse or violence. Human Resources practitioners should not underestimate the value of immediately sending out a message to all employees if an incident has occurred, as this has the potential to knock a bullying issue on its head right from the start. It’s not always that simple, since bullying and harassment in the workplace can be extremely complicated. But by making sure that lines of communication are open among human resources practitioners, line managers, and employees, inspires the team to come forward, harnesses trust, and shows everyone that they have someone to talk to when serious issues arise.

Last, but by no means least, while employers should encourage employees who believe they are being harassed or bullied to notify the offender that their behavior is unwelcomed (by words or by conduct), it is worth recognizing that this is not always possible. Human Resources practitioners must clarify to their employees that all allegations of harassment or bullying will be taken seriously and confidentially and that grievances or complaints of harassment will not be ignored or treated lightly. Reliable Human Resources involvement and communication with the team at all levels is key to helping put a stop to bullying and harassment.


Phidelia Johnson is a global Human Resources Practitioner with eighteen years of leadership success. With a focus on streamlining Human Resources administration, she’s well-equipped to find the right solution to a myriad of concerns. Her experience as a commercial business leader gives her a unique ability to advocate for both the employer and the employee.

In her down time, Phidelia is a master of her kitchen, creating wonderful dishes filled with passion and flavor. If she’s not cooking delicious food, she’s stretched out with a good book. She hopes to use her experience to help others, guide company leaders to best practices, and help build better professionals and stronger organizations.

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