What is harassment, and does it exist in the horse world? It most certainly does!! I have asked our wonderful Human Resources Guru Marcia Hancock, from The Job Search Advisor, to fill us in on the details of harassment. Here is what she shares with us, part one of two!! (I hope you never need to use the info contained in here - but just in case......)
Harassment - Do You Really Know What It Means? Part I
What really is ‘workplace harassment?’ Harassment is a verbal or physical act committed by a person against or toward another making he/she feel uncomfortable, offended, intimidated or oppressed. Harassment often occurs when an employee is singled out and treated differently.
Workplace harassment differs only from other harassment as the unlawful act happens where people are employed and conduct their work. In the equine industry, which is to some degree unregulated, the workplace can be barns and stables, competitions, trade shows, conventions, race tracks, equine equipment dealerships, veterinary schools, and tack and supply stores. Harassment can affect your work as an employee, independent contractor or consultant.
Workplace harassment is considered a form of employment discrimination. However, to be the illegal form of employment discrimination, workplace harassment must be based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age (over 40), disability including AIDS, pregnancy or related condition, medical condition, and/or marital status. Workplace harassment might also occur in the form of retaliation against an employee often with the goal of forcing that person to resign. An employee will believe he/she has no choice but to endure the harassment to keep their job!
An ‘unlawful act’ means harassment is illegal and employers are liable for allowing harassing behavior to occur in the workplace, and may suffer large fines in the thousands of dollars and beyond imposed by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and other government agencies for not taking action and allowing harassment to take place.
And what are the boundaries for workplace harassment? With the emergence of cell phones as an integral part of doing business, what is considered ‘workplace’ harassment is expanding.
This is especially true in the horse industry where pagers and cell phones are a necessary and an integral part of communication at large events. Many in the horse industry are on call seven days per week and at irregular hours at peak show, racing and breeding times during the year.
‘Textual harassment’, a term resulting from a combination of sexual harassment and texting, refers to the unrelenting sending of volumes of unwelcome text messages that are unrelated to your work. ‘Textual’ harassment is the term used to describe the situation where one person is constantly and obsessively texted by someone with whom they do not wish to communicate! ‘Textual’ harassment implies the use of a cell phone or other electronic device as the medium to repeatedly text to the point at which the action becomes harassment. It is abusive behavior via electronic medium expanding the boundaries of the workplace and harassment.
‘Textual harassment’ is an increasing workplace problem as texting is discreet, has no witnesses and is an informal means of communication. Many do not understand that excessive texting to an employee is ‘textual harassment’ and is a form of workplace bullying!
Discrimination based on sex includes harassment based on gender, pregnancy, childbirth or abortion and in several states and under Federal law on the basis of sexual orientation.
Harassment is any unwelcome discriminatory conduct in the workplace that no reasonable employee should have to endure!
What is offensive or harassing behavior? Harassment takes many forms and can be delivered using degrading words, spoken put-downs and other unwanted comments. Harassment includes but is not limited to offensive jokes, slurs, profanity, name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule, mockery, insults or put downs, offensive objects or pictures, any and all of which interfere with an employee’s work performance. The offensive conduct must be frequent and/or serious enough that a reasonable employee would consider it to be intimidating, hostile or abusive.
Harassment can be conveyed through actions such as unwanted physical contact of any kind, gestures or other unwanted acts. Harassment is about perception and not intent. What you meant to say but did not say does not protect you from a charge of harassment! How unwelcome comments are interpreted, taken and perceived helps define whether or not harassment has occurred. No matter how seemingly harmless or subtle the questions or comments might be, it might ultimately add up to harassment in the workplace.
Workplace bullying, another form of harassment, occurs when one employee makes gestures or uses comments or words to make another seem inferior. Bullying is a deliberate public display with the intention to berate and harass another, to draw attention to that person, to make him/her seem different in the attempt to make the bully seem superior. Bullies draw attention to another’s disability, age, looks, sexual preference, religious beliefs, race, gender, family or ethnic background, political affiliations, and other protected categories.
Any action committed by one employee against another that suggests or promotes racial stereotyping and hatred or prejudice is also harassment.
The most common form of workplace harassment is sexual harassment. What is sexual harassment? If one employee asks for, demands or shows any attempt to gain sexual attention from another employee, and the attempts are unwelcome and consistent, it is sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment as workplace harassment can occur in many settings in or outside of the formal workplace. In the horse industry, that includes trade shows, conferences, competitions, fairs, and events outside of the regular work site, barn or stable.
Sexual harassment can be ‘quid pro quo’ e.g. when a person with authority over another, a manager, supervisor, Board member or executive demands sexual favors in exchange for employment security or job benefits such as a raise or promotion. Quid pro quo can involve the threat of termination if the subordinate does not comply.
Sexual harassment creates what is called as a ‘hostile’ work environment meaning the offensive or threatening behavior is severe enough for an employee refuse to work because of the harassment he/she is experiencing! A hostile work environment results from consistent, unwelcome conduct by supervisors, co-workers, customers, vendors, or anyone else with whom the victimized employee interacts on the job. A hostile work environment and sexual harassment includes discussing sexual activities, telling off-color jokes, unnecessary touching, commenting on physical attributes, displaying sexually suggestive pictures and other like behaviors.
Food for Thought
What is harassment really? Harassment is not just something you read or hear about in the news. It is real and is happening every day especially now in a down economy.
When it happens to you, it becomes your reality.
Employees who file harassment complaints are often viewed as greedy, seeking a monetary settlement. Employers may describe harassed employees as disgruntled - they most often are not.
When it is happening to you, it is your whole world and affects who you are, how you interact with others, and your job performance.
In the horse industry, it can be a safety problem-employees who are harassed cannot focus on the job at hand and often puts lives at risk, both human and equine.
Our next article on Workplace Harassment Part II will discuss What To Do, Who to Talk With and Where to Go.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are opinion only and based on the experience of the article's author and not to be construed as legal advice in any respect. Consult an attorney before taking action based on the contents of this article. Marcia Hancock, Liv Gude, and Professional Equine Grooms, LLC expressly disclaim all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this article.