Of course no bullying and harassment is acceptable in the workplace, and most employers have a policy covering this issue, and are committed to addressing it where it occurs.
But bullying and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation is a specific concern and it’s worth bearing in mind some of the ways you can address this particular type of behaviour in your business. Here are five things for you to think about when considering a strategy to address bullying and harassment due to sexual orientation:
1. Make sure your policy is adequate
You may already have a bullying and harassment/dignity at work policy in place. But is it adequate to prevent and address concerns relating to sexual orientation? An effective policy will make explicit references to bullying and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation, and will also give specific examples of unacceptable behaviour.
Your policy should also be clear that claims to be ‘only joking’ do not make behaviour of this kind any more acceptable, and should make clear what anyone should do if they are either the victim of bullying and harassment or a witness to it.
2. Address ignorance
A lack of awareness about sexual orientation issues, or general ignorance about acceptable behaviour can sometimes be the cause of bullying and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation, but of course that doesn’t make it more acceptable for the victim or for those who work in the environment the behaviour creates. Make sure that lack of awareness isn’t an issue in your workplace by ensuring everyone benefits from some awareness training.
3. Challenge behaviour
Even where bullying and harassment-type behaviour is because of ignorance, or without malicious intent, it is essential that managers deal with it promptly and make clear that it is unacceptable. It can feel difficult to do this if you are certain the perpetrator “didn’t mean any harm”, but of course that isn’t the point – the point is that regardless of the motive, if you let unacceptable behaviour slide, you are legitimising it.
If you get your awareness training right, you are also on your way to creating a culture where all employees feel empowered to challenge unacceptable behaviour in each other.
4. Informal support
Many incidences of bullying and harassment, on the grounds of sexual orientation and on other grounds too, go unreported. Many victims feel reluctant to make a formal complaint, they may not want to make a fuss, or may fear ridicule or retribution. Consider putting in place a ‘safe’ way for victims of bullying in your organisation to talk to someone about it confidentially.
This can help them by either giving them tools, techniques and confidence to address the behaviour directly themselves, if they would like to; by talking them through the other options they may have to raise their concerns; or by signposting them to other support available.
5. Check your culture
In some organisations or sectors, there is still a culture of heterosexual ‘banter’ in the workplace, and this can create a very intimidating, non-inclusive atmosphere for employees who don’t ‘fit in’ to that culture, including lesbian, gay and bisexual staff. Again it is hard to address that if the team seem to work well together, this ‘banter’ has been part of the workplace culture for some time.
But consider the fact that by allowing a culture like that to continue you are opening your business up to potential harassment or discrimination claims on a number of different grounds, and are also creating an environment where recruiting and retaining good staff is made more challenging.
Similarly, in some businesses there is a culture of client hospitality or work nights out involving activities which are not inclusive, such as attending lap-dancing clubs or similar. Any work social events, whether involving clients or not, should not involve any activities which may exclude or intimidate anyone, so if this is the practice in your business, it’s time to look for some alternative options.
If you would like some assistance in developing an inclusive workplace or addressing a workplace culture issue, do get in touch.