Understand, address harassment at work
WITH MAKANA RISSER CHAI
SOCIETY FOR HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT HAWAII CHAPTER VOLUNTEER, ATTORNEY, AUTHOR AND TRAINER
With the #MeToo movement, Hawaii employees and employers are asking what is harassment and what can be done to stop it.
Q: Is illegal harassment anything that makes someone uncomfortable at work?
A: No. An employee may feel uncomfortable because someone has violated their personal values, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the behavior is illegal. In order to be illegal sexual harassment, the behavior must be sexual or sexist (related to gender), unwelcome by the victim, so severe that it interferes with the victim’s work, and the company knew about it, or should have known, and did not take reasonable steps to prevent it. Generally, courts have found behavior not to be “severe” unless it happens constantly or it is a physical assault. However, most companies have harassment policies, and those policies can set a higher standard than the law, prohibiting behavior before it gets to the point of being severe. In addition, we all have our own personal values. If a company wants to create a respectful workplace, it will encourage employees to treat others the way they want to be treated.
Q: What should I do if I feel harassed?
A: If you feel comfortable asking the person to stop, you can. But if you don’t feel comfortable, or they continue after you’ve asked them to stop, you should make a complaint to your HR department. If the harassment is from a supervisor or manager, or HR does not handle your complaint appropriately, you also can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.
Q. What should I do if I see harassment?
A: If you are a supervisor or manager, step in immediately to make it stop, tell the victim you are going to HR now and you will get back with them shortly, and escort the perpetrator to HR with you to prevent any further harassment. If you are not in management, one of the best ways to stop harassment is to put yourself between the victim and the harasser, facing the victim, walking with them away from the harasser, and asking them if they would like you to go with them to HR.
Because of an editing error in a previous version of this article, the legal definition was stated incorrectly. We reprint the corrected article above.