Below I’ll take a detailed look at the three elements. But first, a quick reminder that you do have legal obligations in this area. Every business has obligations under Work, Health and Safety legislation, and things like bullying, harassment, and discrimination fall into this realm.
As a business owner, you need to do everything that you can to keep your workers safe. And within Australian Work, Health and Safety laws, there’s no grey areas. You’re simply required to comply. So it is really important to have a policy in place.
Develop a Policy
I discussed the joys of policies and how they can help reduce complexity in episode four of our Find Grow Keep podcast. This is very important in the area of problem behaviours because it means that when you get a complaint, you will know exactly what to do because it’s detailed in your policy.
But also importantly, your employees know exactly what to do if they encounter any of this behaviour. And remember they might encounter the behaviour in many spheres, from other employees, customers or suppliers.
Scope of the Policy
Your policy should cover:
- definitions of problems behaviours, including bullying, harassment, discrimination, vilification and victimisation
- practical steps to take if someone experiences problem behaviour.
Any employee who encounters someone they feel has made a racist comment, or has bullied or harassed them should be able to go to that policy and know exactly what steps to take.
Usually, the first step in a policy says something like ‘If you’re comfortable doing so, speak to the person and say “what you just said was really offensive”, or “the way that you just spoke to me, made me feel like X”’. That’s obviously only an option if the person is comfortable.
The next steps will vary, as they’re going to differ across different businesses. The key takeaway is that the policy must define what’s not acceptable, and clearly articulate the steps to take if, as an employee, you experience problem behaviour, or, as a manager, you receive a complaint.
Policies Trigger Action
I have found that sometimes there’s someone in a workplace that has issues, but everyone thinks ‘well, that’s just the way they are, they’ve always been like that’. Then a new person comes on board and they say, ‘hang on, this isn’t acceptable, I don’t like the way that person is speaking to me’. And unfortunately, the go-to response is often to dismiss it, because that person has always been that way.
However imagine there’s a policy in place, and the new person checks that policy. Perhaps they raise the issue with the person and it doesn’t help, or perhaps they’re not comfortable raising it. So they take the next step and bring it to their manager. This means the issue has been escalated and that automatically triggers an action – the manager must do something about it.
Policies Create Process
Another advantage of policies is that they provide clear guidance for everyone concerned. Let’s not forget, if a complaint is made against somebody, they will also want to know the process.
If someone comes to me and says, ‘hey, we’ve had a complaint made against you, someone felt that you made a racist comment’. Then I will immediately have some questions like:
- what does that mean?
- how do I defend myself?
- what’s the process?
- how do I fix my relationship with the person who has made the complaint?
Or if I have been accused of really terrible things, I may have questions like:
- what’s the outcome here?
- am I going to lose my job?
These are the sorts of questions that will be going through my head. So it’s very important to have the answers to all of these questions set out in a clear policy.