Will new framework stop violence at work?

More than one in five affected, says International Labour Organization

Will new framework stop violence at work?

Everybody knows violence and harassment at work is abhorrent, but now this has been codified into international law.

A new framework, released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190, provides a clear way to prohibit, prevent, and address workplace violence and harassment. ILO Director-General, Gilbert Houngbo, recently signed Canada onto the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (C190) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Houngbo says by ratifying the treaty, “Canada reaffirms its longstanding commitment to the creation of a world of work free from violence and harassment, based on dignity and respect for all and leaving no one behind.”

Worldwide more than one in five people have experienced violence and harassment at work, according to analysis released by the ILO. The analysis found that 22.8 per cent of the respondents across 121 countries said they have experienced violence and harassment at work, whether physical, psychological, or sexual.

Australian crackdown

Elsewhere, employers across the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are now required to report all incidents of sexual assault to WorkSafe ACT, thanks to a new law passed in the Legislative Assembly recently.

Also, South Australia’s workplace health and safety regulator is preparing to increase the number of investigations it undertakes into sexual harassment complaints and other issues associated with psychological harm at work.

“Employers have a positive obligation under anti-discrimination and health and safety laws to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace,” says Bhrig Chauhan, principal lawyer, employment law, Aitken Partners.

“Employers are legally compelled to investigate complaints or incidents in a prompt manner and implement measures to ensure any unlawful conduct stops immediately.”

Widespread issues

While these developments are welcome news to workers, it doesn’t mean the problem will disappear overnight. A new report showed that in some cases, the problem remains rampant, with 71.4 per cent of recent survey respondents saying they have experienced at least one form of harassment and violence or sexual harassment and violence.

Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) experienced at least one behaviour or practice of harassment and violence at work in the past two years and 43.9 per cent experienced at least one behaviour or practice of sexual harassment and violence in the past two years while at work.

Trouble at the top

Frontline workers are not the only ones who experience this type of potentially criminal behaviour, it can even reach the C-suite.

With leadership teams under increased scrutiny for their actions both in-person and online, executives are being held accountable left, right and centre – with some even losing their jobs for ill-judged posts and risqué messages.

But where does management approach disciplinary matters in the upper echelons of the boardroom?

It begins with being prepared for anything, says an expert.

“All companies should have appropriate employee handbooks and policies in place that contain comprehensive disciplinary procedures laying out steps that should be taken if a staff member commits an act of misconduct,” says Olivia Cicchini, legal specialist at Peninsula.

These documents, in combination with the C-Suite employee’s contract, should provide the employer with important tools and rights, such as reserving the right to suspend the C-suite employee pending an investigation, says Cicchini.

The issue when dealing with harassment allegations in the C-suite comes down to understanding and practicing discretion. While leaders need to ensure that they conduct a full and thorough investigation, it’s important to handle it with confidentiality.

“When disciplining any employee, including C-suite staff, it’s important to keep the process confidential,” says Cicchini.

“If the executive’s misconduct becomes public, by way of litigation or through the media, then depending on the matter and what actions are in process, the company will have to choose from several responses.

Make unwanted pics illegal: Lawyer

For some women, this problem can also be manifested by male coworker’s unacceptable and disgusting behaviour. “Why do men feel compelled to send pictures of their penises?” asked Michael Spratt, certified criminal law specialist and partner at the criminal law firm Abergel Goldstein & Partners.

“A 2017 study found that one in four millennial men have sent a dick pic, and almost a quarter of those men did it without consent. The same survey found that 53 per cent of millennial women have received a dick pic and that 78 per cent of the time, the penile pictures were unsolicited,” he says.

This unwarranted action should be made criminal, argues Spratt. “A recipient’s most private places can become tainted by unwanted images. Women in their homes can receive these unwanted images late at night when they are alone. They can be received at work. Or at the gym. Or while eating breakfast or putting kids to bed. Without any notice. Without any warning.”

“Simply put, many women experience this level of intrusion and loss of privacy and control as a form of assault and sexual violence.”

It’s just another way that violence and harassment is wrong, and especially in the workplace, the time is right to stamp out these things immediately, he says.