to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #5 — ACTIONS OUTSIDE OF WORK CAN BE DEEMED HARASSMENT

If employees do something outside of work that has a negative impact back in the workplace, employers may well find themselves dealing with a harassment problem. Otherwise, imagine the loopholes, where I could do anything I want outside work that is mildly or grossly inappropriate.

 

Years ago I investigated such a case. One night after their shift in the company parking lot, an employee asked a female colleague if she'd like a ride home. Having no reason to suspect anything except courtesy from a fellow worker, she accepted the ride. As soon as she noticed he was going in the wrong direction, she asked to be taken home or at least dropped off. He told her he just needed to pick up something from his apartment and then he'd take her home. As soon as he parked the car in his underground garage, she got out of the car and ran away. She made her way back to the workplace, completely distraught.

 

Since she never made it to his apartment, we'll never know what his final motives were. The company hired me to investigate; in the meantime, the male employee was placed on an unpaid leave of absence. His union, protecting his interests, argued that since all of this happened outside the workplace, it wasn't a workplace harassment case. The union stressed that the woman should have referred it to the police.

 

However, I knew the law said otherwise. Since I was asked for my opinion on discipline, I suggested termination of employment for the young man, because even if he'd been placed on a different shift from the woman who filed the complaint, I knew she'd never feel comfortable with the notion that she might cross paths with him again on work premises. The company severed his employment, but stipulated that if he underwent counselling and was able to show he was no longer a threat to women in the firm, he could have his job back. He declined to pursue this option, the grievance was dropped, and his termination of employment was upheld.

 

Inappropriate behaviour doesn’t have to go as far as trying to abduct your fellow employee; it can include many different forms of behaviour. Employees need to remember that if their behaviour has a negative impact back at work, the employer may have an obligation to act.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1) Keep in mind this is somewhat uncommon - as the law is not designed to interfere in people's personal lives. There are many times co-workers have issues outside of work and they can resolve them or carry on a grudge, but with no ill effect at work. There are times a supervisor can just say, "You're adults - work it out yourself otherwise I’ll have to, and you might not like my decision."

2) Don't worry that as a supervisor, you're going too far - because it is so rare when outside actions cause an issue for the employer. However, to get along in a civilized society, we put many limits on the things we can say and do. If a person wants to say outrageous things on their own time and with their own friends and family, they are free to do so. However, when similar comments are made to a co-worker, that's where the line is drawn and the employer might have to respond.

3) Even if other authorities are involved, you may be too - sometimes an event takes place outside of work that involves the police or other groups in authority. That may not exempt the employer's responsibility to deal with harassment from the event that took place outside of work. After all, you don’t want other authorities making decisions for you. Seek advice on what needs to be done.

This is TIP #5 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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