What constitutes harassment and what to do about it were among the topics addressed Wednesday during a Harassment in the Workplace workshop hosted by the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce.
The workshop, led by Dr. Laura Oliver, owner and consultant Lead Adapt Overcome Consulting in Harker Heights, took place at Texas Workforce Solutions of Central Texas in Killeen.
Oliver drew distinctions between harassment and disrespect, defining harassment as unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender or gender identity, nationality, age (40 or over, physical or mental disability or genetic information.
When the word harassment comes up in a conversation, a majority of people think first of the sexual harassment cases that take up most of the broadcast time in newscasts but there are so many more that are prevalent in the workplace.
“Playing religious music at your workstation might be offending your neighbor,“ Oliver said. “A complaint was actually made against a worker who listened to religious music at their workstation and they had to be told that it was offending their fellow worker in the next station. They were told to either turn it off or listen to it over ear buds while they worked.
In addition to serving as a consultant, she has managed organizations.
“I’ve had to be the supervisor who had to tell an employee that they’re harassing someone in the workplace,” Oliver said.
“As supervisors, there is nothing too small that we don’t have to pass on the complaint,” Oliver said.
“When I went to work, I had a supervisor who would make jokes that he thought were funny about Italians,” Oliver said. “I’m Italian, my father and grandparents are from Silicy and he knew I was very proud of my heritage.
“He (the supervior) kept making jokes that were offensive to me, but at that time I was about 20 years old. I didn’t know any better and just laughed along and kept working.
“In today’s world, that would be harassment. It made me uncomfortable and I thought he was singling me out because of my history and natural origin,” Oliver said.
Harassment becomes unlawful, Oliver said, when enduring the offensive conduct becomes a prerequisite to continue employment or the conduct is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would consider the workplace intimidating, hostile or abusive.
Oliver listed some pertinent facts about harassment:
men can harass men and women can harass women
harassment doesn’t have to be directed at a specific individual
offenders can be supervisors, co-workers, or nonemployees
the conduct needn’t be intentional
what is offensive is in the “eye of the beholder
harassment can be verbal, nonverbal, physical or written
age-related harassment is the fastest growing form in the U.S.
any employee can go to any manager with a harassment complaint.
One of the workshop participants, Hannah Dinh, who works with a local nail salon, told the Herald, “When people think of harassment, what comes to mind is the sexual side of the issue, but it is so much more. I was glad that she laid out a comprehensive view of the types of harassment that people experience in the workplace.”
Mary Shabunia, chamber vice president for business development, said she learned that there is a lot of gray are when it comes to human resources and harassment and how you navigate that in a business.