Whilst we have sent out Newsletters on this topic before there are some interesting trends developing which should be discussed.

In recent weeks we have had a number of employees who have been terminated by their employer for bullying and harassment not as a result of a complaint by the employee they were alleged to have bullied or harassed but by a third party observer who lodged a complaint. In all cases these employees were called upon to show just cause why they should not be terminated for a clear breach of the values and ideals that the Company espouses.

The most interesting part of this is that in all the matters above not one of the individuals who were alleged to have been bullied or harassed made any formal complaint of their own regarding the alleged behaviour of the perpetrator and in most cases actually stated that they did not feel either bullied or harassed as a result of the actions of the alleged perpetrator. The bullying/harassing behaviours cited included using sexually explicit language and swear words which the third parties found offensive.

These trends are indicative of the need for employees to be more fully aware that their behaviour can be found to be offensive by persons who are not directly involved in any interchange and, as cases develop, may also impact even more into workplace culture. Employees who engage in off colour remarks and jokes, comments laced with sexual innuendo or which may be construed to have racial overtones in the workplace will need to be increasingly mindful of the audience who may overhear these remarks. This becomes further complicated when employees from other cultures are present in a workplace who may work on a completely different set of social mores. Whilst many may argue that ‘it’s the way we do things here’ the legislation takes no such position and acts to protect workers from exposure to harassment and perceived discrimination.

Does your business have a Values/Beliefs or an Employee Value Proposition statement or even a ‘Code of Conduct’ that clearly describes your philosophy?  In our experience, there are only a very few small business environments that have such a document or philosophy in place and who make it the basis of their expected workplace culture.

Many employers would argue that an employee should know how to act or behave ‘properly’, but what is ‘properly’?  No two workplaces are exactly the same and when employees move from one workplace to another and then do not appear to fit your idea of ‘appropriate behaviour’ how do you manage that person today’s workplace?  We all know that simply sacking an employee without due consideration to procedural fairness is likely to end badly (and expensively) for employers!

It is incumbent upon employers therefore to review their policy documentation and to ensure that all behaviours and communications in a workplace conform to the expected standards of professionalism and courtesy explicitly stated within its documentation.  It is precisely on this basis that employees have been terminated and will continue to be terminated in the future when such incidents arise.

In the end it comes down to good leadership and a clearly articulated Vision, Mission & Values statement that is consistently communicated to key stakeholders.

Who remembers the signs that used to be pinned to the toilet wall? – go on, we know you do!!  The signs were clear statements about expected behaviours and courtesies (eg ‘wash your hands’ ‘flush the toilet’) some were couched with humour. With this in mind it’s ironic that more employers don’t deem it appropriate to have clearly articulated statements and signage concerning what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour or rules of conduct in their workplaces.  Remember our employees are on our worksites for hours, days, weeks, months, even years – not just visiting for a ‘pit’ stop.

So whilst we will happily assist employers with policies and procedures to help carry the message, knowing what your Vision, Mission and Values are first is imperative.

Why not tap into our expertise in this area and let us assist you in developing sound leadership within your business? Call us today to see how we can assist you or contact us through our website. 

The information contained in this article does not constitute and should not be relied upon as ‘legal advice’. Workwise recommends that legal advice be sought from a suitably qualified legal practitioner prior to any action being taken. Such advice may be accessed via Workwise