Is it harassment or bullying?

Robin Noah

Robin Noah


Regardless Employers have an obligation to their employees and to the Law when it comes to Harassment and/or Bullying at work

In the past several years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) closed 7,256 sexual harassment and bullying claims nationwide that resulted in over $44 million in fines and lawsuit settlements. Last year there were over 30,000 employee complaints filed in California alone! In a recent survey, 27% of Americans reported that they have suffered abusive conduct while at work. How do we stop this epidemic of workplace harassment and bullying?

Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable and unwelcome behavior directed towards an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety:

  • Basically a health and safety issue
  • Affects safe workplace policies
  • Employees can file complaints to the Fair Work Commission.
  • You can be investigated and prosecuted by your State regulator for a breach of health and safety legislation.

Workplace harassment is unwanted behavior that offends, humiliates or intimidates a person, and targets them on the basis of a characteristic such as gender, race or ethnicity. Even when you have less than 50 employees you still need to have written policies regarding these issues. There are very specific guidelines for handling harassment – sexual or otherwise.

Often employers treat bullying and harassment as the same class of problematic behavior. However, the law relating to each of these areas is different, the approaches you take to prevent these behaviors should also differ.

Harassment relates to the prohibition in anti-discrimination laws against sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination in the workplace. These laws differ from health and safety laws in that a victim of harassment can make a complaint to an external agency – in effect, launching a legal proceeding against your organization.

You need to create and implement bullying and harassment policies. Each policy needs to describe what the organization considers harassment and what it considers as bullying. The ensuing action when the policy is violated should also be very specific.

Keep in mind that policies are written so that there is a common understanding of the organization’s behavioral expectations and to what end the organization will take corrective action to provide effective resolutions of these types of problems.

Even if you have less than 50 employees, employers have an obligation to their employees and to the Law when it comes to Harassment and bullying at work.

Author:  Robin Noah, Executive Coaches of Orange County.