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In: Business and Management

Submitted By brandonshavone
Words 1480
Pages 6
Brandon Noel
Professor Jane Wright
Professionalism and Ethics
June 06, 2016
A Call to Action:
How to Intervene in Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment is a significant violation in the modern work environment. According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission Workplace harassment "involves any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you...Serious one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment." (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2013) If left uncheck accusations of workplace harassment could potentially put a business in trouble with the regulatory agencies. In the workplace, employees experience sexual, gender, and racial/ethnic harassment. The Ontario Ministry of Labour has developed recommendations and guidelines as a way to reduce the occurrences of workplace harassment. On the other hand, employers also a responsibility to put in place “best practices” for employees to follow to ensure a safe work environment for everyone. Intervention is needed because persons who experience harassment have a hard time fight back. Because laws on workplace harassment are not sufficient to punish harassers.

The act of workplace harassment/violence on the job is considered a legal and ethical issue. According to Ontario law, employers, managers, and unions have to thwart actively and monitor occurrences of workplace harassment to be in compliance with the “Ontario human rights code.” (Labour, 2015) Additionally, employers must also provide training on workplace harassment when they hire new employees. In doing so, employees become more aware of types of workplace harassment so that they know the signs of abuse. Harassment in the workplace is also considered an ethical issue because many individuals have morals. Our morals help us determine if an action by a person or an organisation is right or wrong by asking ourselves the simple question “is this right?” “do I agree?” By following our code of ethic we avoid actions that create a conflict of interest such as fraud, inappropriate behaviour, and various types of harassment.

When I worked in a department store, I observed what seemed to be harassment of a female co-worker by a male customer. At first, I thought, “she probably knew the guy” and that “she could handle it on her own.” Until I noticed something was wrong: My co-worker looked very uncomfortable, like she wanted to be anywhere else. Apparently the customer thought that my coworkers did not provide satisfactory customer service, the customer started to hurl offensive and degrading remarks. When my colleague walked away, the customer began following her and yelling at my co-worker and even went as far as grabbing her arm. Although the incident didn’t look like it was a big deal, I have always been told you can’t catch anyone no matter what. According to the OHSA, this incident could be classified as workplace violence /harassment because the customer exercised physical force against my co-worker in the work environment. (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2013) The situation was getting out of hand. I thought to myself “how can I intervene?” I came to the conclusion that it was my duty to speak up by challenging the harasser, reporting the incident, and ignoring questions challenging my authority.

First of all, Ethics are defined as a “Moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of activity.” (Oxford, 2016) Ethic share a close relationship with the law in most cases conduct that a are considered unethical can also be considered illegal. Although legally I am not obligated to confront the alleged harasser, I think it is the ethical thing to do. In this scenario, it would be most helpful to inform the customer that his actions are unwelcome by my co-worker. Informing the alleged harasser that his behaviour is wrong is key because it lets the customer know that his actions are unpopular in this environment. In doing so, I have established a moral principle for others to follow in that situation. Furthermore, confronting the alleged harasser is ethical because doing so prevents the situation from getting out of control and more abusive.

Studies have shown that individuals have a hard time confronting others, especially peers and authority figures. According to Psychology Today, this is called the “bystander effect” which refers to the fact that individuals have trouble offering help to someone in trouble when they are alone. (Ph.D., 2004) According to the “Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1” everyone is entitled to work in a safe and healthy environment. (Ontario, 2012-2014) The Health and Safety Act serves as a guide for businesses on workplace harassment by providing companies with clear rules and regulations. If a company does not comply with OHSA, they will face massive fines and possible prison time.

Secondly, it is important to report the inappropriate behaviour to the authorities such as the police and the local labour board. According to Ontario, employment law, individuals and employers have a responsibility to report acts of workplace violence. (Ontario, 2012-2014) I would intervene by obtaining the information from everyone involved, and the names of anyone who might have witnessed the incident. Moreover, I collected information on the event such as the date, time, and where the incident took place. I thought it was also important to obtain information on how the altercation started and what was said. Since I saw the customer grab my coworkers’ arm, I thought it would be necessary to inform the security department at my store.

Although many people find it difficult to report inappropriate behaviour, and they may find it easier just to gloss it over. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, "an employer must develop and maintain a program to implement the workplace harassment policy." Meaning I had an obligation to intervene by reporting the behaviour to the authorities, or I would be in violation of my employer's policies. By the same token companies must also train workers on how to file incident reports and how to address incidents and complaints to be in compliance with OHSA.

Lastly, the customer said "who are you?" as a way of dismissing me. I felt flatfooted by the remark, so I preceded to ask "is there a problem here?" According to crisis prevention when intervening, it is important to establish your authority. (crisis, 2015) It is common for someone accused of harassment to question your authority as a way to avoid accountability for their actions. The best way to act when someone questions your authority is to redirect them back to the issue. To resolve this situation, I told the customer that I was a supervisor and that I had to file an incident report. As a result, the client decided to leave the store. However, if the harasser decides that, he wants to ignore my request to stop or if I feel like talking to him will get me nowhere. The best course of action would be to reference my company's employee handbook. If I find a passage on workplace harassment, I will follow it. If I do not find what I am looking for, I should talk to someone above me in the company.

Workplace harassment has always been a serious issue. However, in todays diverse workplace individual are subject to many different types of harassment such as race, religion, and sexual orientation. Employees and employers need to realize that it is important to Intervene when witnessing workplace harassment. Both men and women have a hard time fighting back because laws on workplace harassment are not sufficient to punish harassers. Employers are responsible for defining what constitutes harassment and what an employee can do to intervene and as an employee you have an ethical and legal responsibility to intervene and report workplace harassment. Combating workplace harassment is important because we all want to work in a safe and health environment.

Works Cited

(2015, 12 02). Retrieved from
Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2013, 01 09). Retrieved from
Labour. (2015, 12 02). Retrieved from
Ontario, Q. P. (2012-2014). Retrieved from
Oxford. (2016). Retrieved from
Ph.D., M. B. (2004, 11 04). Retrieved from Brooks, R. (1999). Dignity and Discrimination: Toward A Pluralistic Understanding of Workplace Harassment (1st ed., pp. 1-5). Georgetown: Georgetown University Law Center. Retrieved from
Franke, K. (1997). What's Wrong With Sexual Harassment? (1st ed., pp. 3-7). Stanford: STANFORD LAW REVIEW. Retrieved from

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