Workplace harassment and violence happens more frequently than you may think. A 2017 Canadian survey found that 60% of respondents had experienced workplace harassment and/or violence at one time or another (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2017). Considering the prevalent nature of workplace harassment, it is important to understand what it is so that you can recognize it when it happens and have some ways to cope with it.
Harassment can occur in many forms and refers to any action or comment by someone that is meant to humiliate, degrade, offend, or intimidate another person (Hango & Moyser, 2018). That person may be a colleague, supervisor, customer, employee, client, or someone else. Workplace harassment may involve verbal abuse, such as condescension or degradation. It may involve acts of discrimination based on age, gender, sex, gender, or cultural identity. It may also include physical forms of harassment, such as threats of harm, physical assault, or sexual assault (Hango & Moyser, 2018).
If you are someone who has experienced workplace harassment, you know how difficult it can be to get up and go to work every day. You may experience a range of emotions on the daily, including fear, anxiety and stress. You may feel stuck and at a loss about what to do. Not feeling safe at work as a result of workplace harassment can have serious impacts on a person’s physical as well as their mental health.
Here are some steps that you may consider in trying to cope with workplace harassment:
- Review your Workplace’s Policy
It is legally required for employers of workplaces to have a policy in place that communicates how they plan to ensure that their workplace is a safe work environment free of bullying, discrimination, and harassment (Ramusovic, 2020). Ask for access to this policy, as it should outline who to speak to about workplace harassment and what steps can be taken to manage the situation (Ramusovic, 2020).
- Write it Down
If your experience with workplace harassment has been ongoing, you might want to begin to write down each time that it happens – the date, time, place, person, and what happened. That way, if and when you decide to report your experience, you have the information you need to prove what you have been facing.
- Tell A Trusted Individual at Work
It may be that you feel safe enough to address your concerns directly with the individual harassing you. However, if not, you may choose to report your experience with workplace harassment with your supervisor/manager or a human resources representative (unless they are the ones doing the harassment). If you are a part of a union, you might be able to contact your union representative and report your experience to them.
If none of these avenues feel safe to you, or if you have tried them and measures have not been taken to resolve the harassment, you can contact WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line at 1-888-621-7233 to report your experience with unsafe work conditions. Someone on this line can help connect you to further resources if needed (WorkSafeBC, 2021).
- Seek Out Support
While reporting your experience to your employer, union representative, or to WorkSafeBC may help prevent the harassment from happening again, you may still experience stress and anxiety over what you have been through. It can be helpful to confide in a trusted friend or family member about your experience so that you can process what has happened. If you find that, over time, you still manage to struggle to go to work or get through your daily tasks, it might help to talk to a counsellor. There are many fantastic counsellors out there who are willing and ready to help those who have faced instances of workplace harassment and violence.
- Stay Connected to Meaningful Activities Outside of Work
Sometimes it can be difficult for someone who has experienced workplace harassment or violence to continue to partake in their everyday activities outside of work. In a society that places high value on work, it can be an awful feeling to have your workplace be a place where you don’t feel safe. If possible, try to spend time connecting with trusted friends and family and engaging in meaningful activities and hobbies outside of work. Continuing to find safety and fulfillment in non-work-related activities can help you stay afloat as you navigate your experience in the workplace.
- Consider Other Work Options
In many situations, it may simply not be an option to quit your job and find a new workplace. However, your experience with harassment at work might have become dire enough that it has led you to consider switching jobs. Are there other jobs within your company with different supervisors or colleagues? Is there another company similar to yours that is hiring for a job you can apply for? Do your friends or family members know of any job opportunities? If changing your job is an option for you, you might choose to begin exploring what else is out there.
- Remember That it is Not Your Fault
At the end of the day, one of the most important things you can remind yourself of is that your experience with workplace harassment is not your fault. If you have experienced unpromoted discrimination, bullying, abuse, or assault at work, you did not ask for it. All people deserve to work in a safe, inclusive, place that does not tolerate abuse or harassment of any kind.
Employment and Social Development Canada. (2017). Harassment and sexual violence in the workplace – public consultation: What we heard [PDF]. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/employment-social-development/services/health-safety/reports/workplace-harassment-sexual-violence-EN.pdf
Hango, D. & Moyser, M. (2018). Harassment in Canadian workplaces. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2018001/article/54982-eng.htm
Ramusovic, T. (2020). What to do if you are being bullied and harassed at work: A legal perspective. Visions Journal, 15(4), 34-36. Retrieved from https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/visions/workplace-bullying-and-harassment-vol15/what-to-do-if-you-are-being-bullied-and-harassed-at-work
WorkSafeBC. (2021). Bullying & harassment. WorkSafeBC. Retrieved from https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/bullying-harassment