Workplace Harassment – The Good News and the Bad!

Could your business and your brand survive a publicised case of workplace harassment, bullying or discrimination?

With workplace harassment actions becoming main stream in the SME space; business owners need to give serious consideration to taking positive and deliberate steps to ensure their workplace environment is free of inappropriate behaviour.

Over 125 years of research tells us that our environment will have a greater impact on our behaviour than our personal attributes. I had a lot of trouble digesting this concept when it was first shared with me; but after 15 years of consulting in more than 25 countries I’m confident that it holds true for the workplace environment.

As a business owner this presents both an opportunity and a risk.

The more we focus on creating a high performance environment the more likely it becomes that our people will “lift” and strive to do and be more.

Provide better training in the environment and people become more committed to personal development and learning new things. Give people meaningful measurements of their performance and activity and most will increase both. Bring a “top gun” performer into the team and others around them tend to lift their performance and beliefs about what’s possible. Introduce coaching and more credible leadership into an environment and people tend to commit to a higher personal standard and be more open to seeking and receiving feedback.

I’ve seen all of these things happen in workplace environments all around the world.

But the reverse is also true.

Allow someone that’s not pulling their weight to remain in the team without consequences and standards across the team will drop. Fail to introduce measurements that are credible into an environment and people will do less. Allow leaders to turn up late to inte

al meetings and watch people’s punctuality diminish.

Think and the impact this environment has on people’s behaviour. Many very well balanced and generally kind hearted people have been guilty of doing and saying some very stupid and nasty things in this environment. Most have no explanation for their “brain snaps” after the fact.

So the question is, what does all of this have to do with workplace harassment and other inappropriate workplace behaviour such as discrimination and bullying?

The answer is everything!

Many of the people found guilty of harassment, bullying and discrimination are not “bad” people. Many didn’t think they were doing the wrong thing. Many were reflecting similar behaviour they had seen others engage in and for many; their workplace environment was a significant contributor to their terrible behaviour.

Let me make myself clear.

In no way does this excuse their behaviour. In no way does this make them any less culpable. There is simply no excuse for inappropriate workplace behaviour in our society and every person deserves to work in an environment free of these evils.nThe point I’m making is that there’s a reason employers are held vicariously liable for the inappropriate behaviour of their people. There’s a reason that ignorance of the behaviour is not an excuse at law. There’s a reason that ignorance that an act constituted bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination is not a defense.

And the reason is quite simply that the behaviour is taking place in the workplace environment created by the business owner.

As a business owner you have a duty to create an environment free of inappropriate behaviour and this should involve taking positive and deliberate steps. Legislation, language and requirements differ from State to State but a recent case (Cooper v Western Area Local Health Network [2012] NSWADT 39) is a timely reminder of the importance business owners need to place on taking reasonable steps to ensure they create an environment free of inappropriate behaviour.

In this case the employer was spared from significant fines and reputational damage when the court found that despite the employee being guilty of harassment the employer was not vicariously liable because they had taken reasonable steps.n“Reasonable steps” is obviously a highly discretionary term but we suggest employers consider the following questions at a minimum:n• Can I prove I’ve provided adequate training on appropriate workplace behaviour?n• Can I prove my people understood the training?n• Can I prove everyone in the team had read and agreed to our workplace behaviour policy?n• Can I prove everyone in the team knew how to make a formal complaint?

The “bad news” is that if you answered “no” to any of these you and your people are highly exposed to inappropriate workplace behaviour and the damage and consequences that flow.

The “good news” is that if you can answer “yes” to these four questions you’ve gone a long way towards creating a workplace free of harassment, bullying and discrimination. The bonus is that at the same time you’ve reduced your personal liability in the event someone in your business has a “Facebook moment”.

Watch the video:

This article was written by special guest contributor Dean Marnix, Dean is a Director of

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *