How HR can play a pivotal role to prevent discrimination and harassment in workplace

We know that workplace incivility often acts as a 'gateway drug' to workplace harassment. 90% of workplace harassment is never officially reported.

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prevent discrimination and harassment in workplace
Discrimination and Harassment in Workplace. Photo Credit by Pixabay.com

The Human Resource Department in any company or organization is as valuable as any other. Their role in maintaining a healthy and conducive work environment is one of the main reason a company flourishes. Failing to do so would lead to a lot of discomfort and tension at work which would automatically lead to a fall in work standards. There is a lot of diversification seen these days, especially in the reputed organizations, with a large number of employees coming from different social and cultural background. Though this was started in order to do away with any discrimination, the result seems to have been quite the opposite, more often than not. It is not uncommon to hear reports of harassment in workplace, sexual or mental, as well as discrimination on the basis of culture, color and most importantly, gender. If someone had to point out a reason for this increasingly problematic situation, it could be because stringent measures are not followed while recruiting an employee. 

Nowadays, the pressure on the HR department to fill particular posts is so much, that they tend to bypass certain traits in an individual or overlook past histories of discrimination. When the screening is not proper, this problem tends to arise more. Since the work of an HR is not only to appoint people but also to subject them to a thorough interview process and make them understand what is expected of them, they can be partially blamed for the harrowing situation. Moreover, if any such complaints are lodged, it is their duty to look into it immediately and come to a judgment as soon as possible. A part of the problem also lies in the fact that certain companies, like startups, that start small, do not appoint an HR for their organization, even though they have a significant number of employees and where the chances of a problem arising are maximal. Thus, there should be enough stress on the importance of appointing an HR in companies with more than 100 employees. Anyway, this article primarily deals with the steps a Human Resource Manager can take in order to create an environment where discrimination and harassment in workplace are unheard of.

Having legitimate recruitment policies

A significant part of the success of a company is sometimes evaluated on the basis of the number of working employees that it has. Therefore, there is a lot of furor in maintaining a certain number of an employee at a given time, putting a lot of pressure on the HR department for recruitment. What they need to understand is achieving the high numbers is not the priority. Suitability of the employees and recruitment of appropriate candidates is of utmost importance as well. 

One mandatory step that should be taken is a rigorous background check of each and every employee placed under the radar. In case there is any record that rings an alarm, like a previous criminal case or a harassment in workplace case in some other company, the employment of that candidate should be put on hold and further investigations should be done. Every company has some legal bindings and creating strict recruitment policies while sticking onto them is one of the biggest function of the HR department in any company.

Take steps to avoid discrimination and harassment in workplace

Again, the policies of the organization will play a pivotal role here. One way of avoiding discrimination is to maintain a parity between the employees recruited. Some companies maintain an equal ratio of males and females in order to avoid gender discrimination. 

Similarly, not giving anyone the opportunity to work for an organization because of their caste, race or origin or even some unrelated disability should be discouraged and everyone should be given an equal shot at the job. This will go a long way in creating an environment that is fair and discrimination-free.

Clear the path for promotion and advancement

When anyone joins a company, going up the ranks and getting promotions is one of the chief reason that makes them work harder. However, there is an associate discrepancy with this ambition. If the discriminator or harasser is someone from a very superior post in comparison to the person being harassed, blocking their path of advancement is used as a threat to prevent anyone from lodging a formal complaint. Sometimes, it doesn’t go till a threat, an employee voluntarily decides to keep their mouth shut in order to stay in contention for a promotion or not jeopardize their chances of rising up the ranks. 

This is where an HR should step in and ensure that no such steps will be taken in case a complaint is lodged against anyone in the company, irrespective of the post they occupy. Moreover, it should not only be bland words, but the HR should also make sure that the paths do not collide and have any detrimental effect on the professional life of an employee. This will create an environment of safety and trust. Thus, be transparent with your employees. 

Provide proper training to the employees

Once the employee is recruited, the work of the HR doesn’t end there. There should be provisions to train the recruited employees about what qualifies as discrimination as well as harassment in workplace and how they can raise their voice against it. 

The formal methods of handling the problematic situation like lodging a complaint and coming up with enough alibis acknowledging it should be taught clearly. This will go a long way in taking a timely intervention if required.

In case, unfortunately, there is a case of discrimination or any sort of harassment in workplace, the HR should not try to downplay the problem or dust it underneath, seeing the position of the person being vindicated and instead should take prompt action to hear out the affected person, bring it to the notice of the accused and ask for an explanation and come to a decision regarding the matter in the shortest time possible. 

If possible, all of this should be done under strict confidentiality as well. It will not only benefit the victim but also set up a positive example for other employees that the system actually cares and works.

Being an HR, especially in big multinational companies, is not an easy task. There are a number of aspects that need to be addressed diligently. The primary goal should inevitably be a safe and healthy working environment where everyone contributes to the growth of the company to the best of their abilities.

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