Supervisors have a duty of care to protect employees and their company from the consequences of workplace harassment. They are often the first source of assistance for a harassed employee. Supervisors should be educated and well-equipped to deal with a problem that, at times, is often anything but clear-cut.
If a supervisor observes or hears about inappropriate behavior, it is their responsibility to take it seriously and deal with it immediately. A quick response can mean the difference between stopping behavior before it leads to workplace harassment and having allowed it to rise to the level of workplace harassment.
Most harassment begins with inappropriate comments or acts that are not promptly addressed by a supervisor, and then continue and escalate. It is important to focus on the impact of the behavior, not the intent of the person doing the behavior. Encourage the victim to complain directly to Human Resources if they have such a department, or to the person tasked with dealing with such complaints. Regardless, supervisors should immediately and objectively document the conduct and forward that information to the person in charge of investigating the behavior.
In the USA, there is a classic case of sexual harassment straight out of the 70’s when a waitress at a Cafe, stated that from 2009 her direct manager, asked her if her breasts were real. He then asked her if she would ever “participate in a wet t-shirt contest because she would be the winner.”
The comments continued, and the waitress became more distressed, she asked him to stop even threatening to report him to the management above him in the business. But he didn’t stop, and at one point, he allegedly told her that she got him into trouble with his girlfriend the previous night when he called out her name while having sex, the claim stated.
About an hour after that comment, he approached her again and told her he and his girlfriend were recently at Lingerie Shop and he was “trying to guess [her] size so he could buy her an outfit.”
The Waitress decided enough was enough. She went to a different manager, to report the ongoing sexual harassment. However, much to her disappointment, he gave her this useless advice: “Pray about the situation”.
If she did, her prayers weren’t answered, and the sexual overtures continued. On Halloween the following year in 2010, her direct manager showed up to work dressed in costume, a doctor’s outfit, of course. He then asked her to meet him in his office so he could “give her an exam,” the claim alleges.
No-one should have to come to work and feel uncomfortable or threatened. It would be easy to say “just quit” but in a country with high unemployment, it is not easy to find another job. People do not always have a choice. People deserve to be treated with respect.
When it comes to addressing complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, businesses need to train their supervisors to do more than offer “spiritual advice”.