Bullying and harassment in the workplace are easily discussed in theory, but power and social structures shape the reality so that it is not so easy to decide of what is happening. It can be especially difficult in fields and positions that require very long hours or travel, in my experience. I have been lucky in that I have never been targeted by bullies and I have never been a direct victim of sexual harassment.
As the video pointed out, however, there are shades of grey (Questdiversity, 2008). This can be magnified by the organizational or broader cultural ideal of bravado makes it especially difficult to report given that the stigmatization of the victim can affect career advancement (Ragusa & Groves, 2015). When someone does come forward with a report of bullying, there are issues of accountability regarding how the organization responds, but that response is not a legal requirement.
In terms of what employers should not do in cases of bullying and sexual harassment, covering up such incidents or denying them are extremely important (Chamallas, 2013). In fact, in my mind this sort of behavior by an authority when confronted by allegations, is also abusive. Like bullying and harassment which does not touch on protected classification of discrimination, it may not however be illegal for the employer not to respond. Sadly, it may be simply seen as an issue to be dealt with by the human resources department, without any investigation of whether there was an institutional failure to be accountable. There is also the question of who is accountable, or the etiquette of response.
While I have not been the victim of such harassment at work, I did witness an ongoing issue at work which remains grey area to me. My boss, a middle-aged married man, was having an affair with my colleague, a young woman. We all knew about this, but years later my former colleague made an accusation on social media that the relationship had in fact been sexual harassment. I don’t think that workplace policy could have addressed whether it was harassment and abusive, or whether it was a relationship between consenting adults. Without a policy directly prohibiting sexual contact between supervisors and their reports or staff, the behavior may have been unethical but it was compliant with policy and legal.
- Chamallas, M. (2013). Vicarious Liability in Torts: The Sex Exception. Val. UL Rev., 48, 133.
- Questdiversity. (2008). QUESTDIVERSITY: Sexual Harassment Training. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsMD88-qMxE&feature=youtu.be
- Ragusa, A. T., & Groves, P. (2015). Stigmatisation and the social construction of bullying in Australian administrative law: You can’t make an Omelette without cracking an egg. UNSWLJ, 38, 1507.