Standing Up To Workplace Harassment

There are a number of laws in place to protect employees from harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, a lot of those who fall victim to workplace harassment keep their complaints to themselves, fearing the consequences of taking action – especially if the harasser is their boss.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Code of Conduct, Harassment, Human Resources on March 7th, 2011

Whether it’s on the street or in the workplace, no one should ever be subject to harassment. There are a number of laws in place to protect employees from harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, a lot of those who fall victim to workplace harassment keep their complaints to themselves, fearing the consequences of taking action – especially if the harasser is their boss. A lot of these cases have made their way into the headlines, which makes it seem like harassment is frequently reported, however, the stories that receive public attention are just the tip of the iceberg. Harassment takes a toll on the victim and your company. Employees often let harassment eat at them until they can’t face going into work anymore, which is the case in the story below.

A recent harassment case

As our company is in Canada, I thought it would be fitting to use an example of a recent workplace harassment case that was settled in our home and native land. A woman in Vancouver received $30 000 as a result of winning a human rights case against her employer, whom she reported sent her sexually suggestive text messages. The messages she received were far from welcome, making her a victim of what some are referring to as “textual harassment”. In an article from the Vancouver Sun, “$30,000 awarded in texting case,” it was reported that:

“Lisa McIntosh complained to the BC Human Rights Commission against Zbigniew Augustynowicz, the owner of Metro Aluminum Products Ltd. McIntosh said she had a brief consensual sexual relationship with Augustynowicz after she was hired at the firm in early 2008. He told her he was separated from his wife, but she later discovered that was not true. When she broke off the affair, he sent her a stream of unwanted sexual text messages between June 27 and Sept. 22, 2008.”

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The article also lists some of the various texts Augustynowicz sent to McIntosh. Augustynowicz had to have known that his actions were out of line and inappropriate, especially considering that the two were no longer in a relationship and he had obligations to uphold as her boss. The text messages he sent to her contained things that should never be said to an employee by an employer.

Easier said than done

It’s more than knowing right from wrong. Employers are entitled to ensuring that every employee is given a safe workplace free from harassment. This includes any form of communication between employers and employees. Text messages are treated the same way as written documents and emails – they can be saved, forwarded and used as evidence in an investigation. Reporting an incident such as harassment takes guts. One of the most important ways a company can prevent harassment is to talk about it and assure employees that it’s more than okay for them to report harassment.

In fact, encourage them to do so and reprimand those who retaliate against anyone who reports harassment. I know it’s easier said than done, but everyone needs to start somewhere. What it boils down to is making anti-harassment part of you company’s culture. If those at the top don’t commit to creating a safe workplace, the message will never trickle down to the other levels in the organization.

Companies lose out on great talent and can severely damage their reputation by letting people get away with harassment. As an employer, compliance officer or HR professional, make a commitment to the employees and work with them to create a safe workplace. Don’t waffle on the promise. Failure to take appropriate action against someone who violates the anti-harassment policy can ruin any progress made by the policy/program.

Remember, it’s a lot easier to conduct an investigation into a harassment complaint than it is to face the consequences of neglecting the allegations.


Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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