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1.   Introduction

Workplace harassment has become an increasingly important issue for organizations of all sizes in recent years.  There are growing numbers of harassment complaints and rewards in such cases costing companies in lost time, damages, and legal fees.  Despite of these, many people are still confused about harassment and attribute it with sex.  In fact, workplace harassment is more than that.  Due to increasing globalization, workforce becomes increasing diverse; tensions between employees may arise and escalate into potentially harassing situations such as a person・s race, religion, age, disability, etc.  The outcome is severe impact on an employee・s self respect and personal dignity, and ultimately the organization itself.  Therefore, creating and maintaining a respectful, harassment-free work environment is clearly a must-do and challenge for proactive organizations and its human resource management strategies.

1.1  Purpose of the report

The management is concerned about the increasing workplace harassment in the company that would affect the overall performance of its workforce.  For example, there is race-based harassment about derogatory comments and graffiti related to the Philippines workers; a supervisor repeatedly challenges her subordinates loudly in open area, etc.  Although there are no complains so far, the management feels that they should ensure the employees to have a safe workplace where they can work effectively and efficiency. 

In addition, due to the international characteristics of the company, the management is also concerned about workplace harassment caused by the workforce diversities, which might offend the laws in different countries.  The management feels that they should be proactive to create general awareness about workplace harassment in the company as prevention.

The purpose of this report is therefore to fully investigate this problem, to draw conclusion, and to recommend solutions for the problem.

1.2  Scope of the report

Harassment is a type of discrimination (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 1998).  Discrimination is a very extensive topic so the scope of the report is narrowed down to harassment only.  In addition, the report is focused on creating general awareness about harassment, and suggesting internal strategies to build a harassment-free workplace in the company.  Hence, there would not be any in-depth discussions about government laws against these issues.

1.3  Limitation of the report

Workplace harassment is a fairly new topic and there is not much literature about it.  Most information is collected from the Internet, so it is difficult to justify its relevance and reliability.  Furthermore, it is a challenge to produce this report in a professional manner with the limited information and specified word limit under time constraint. 

Although the report does not involve much detail of harassment laws, the HR department is recommended to follow up and obtain such information from the governments of respective countries, in order to communicate to the employees the severity for such an offence.

2.      Problem analysis

The problem analysis would require an understanding of the corporate background, and analysis of data through internal survey to draw up conclusion. 

2.1  Corporate background

ABC is a representative office in the Far East of its corporate office, ABC-Corp, which is a diversified international manufacturer and wholesale marketer of branded and private label apparel for men, women and children in the United States.  ABC has to oversee operations of ABC-Sin (its Singapore operation office) and ABC-Phil (its Philippines factory), and subcontracting operations in other Far East factories such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.  It has over 1,000 employees in Hong Kong, Singapore and Philippines.  The employees are often required to travel around US and Far East offices to work with their colleagues.  The workforce is very diverse due to different culture and background of the employees.  Conflicts are therefore easily occurred so individual respect and understanding is very important to get the work done effectively and efficiency.

Hong Kong is lagging behind against workplace harassment, and so as ABC-HK.  There is lack of general awareness of the impact of workplace harassment comparing from other developed countries.  A survey of recent legislative and regulatory developments outside of the United States leads to the inescapable conclusion that liability for workplace discrimination and harassment is no longer unique to the American legal system (Maatman, 2000).  Due to its international background, ABC-HK should not merely focus on the laws from Hong Kong (or US from its corporate office); it must also require avoiding workplace harassment that might offend the laws in other countries.

2.2  Analysis of data

In order to determine the current awareness level of workplace harassment, a mini survey was distributed to a random sample of 200 employees, which is about 16.7 percent of total employees of Far East operations:


To select the 200 employees, we used our computer file of all full-time employees.  The number 006 was drawn from random number table.  Every 6th name was selected from the file.

Return Rate

Surveys were mailed to employees・ homes.  Of the 200 surveys distributed, 153 were returned completed (76.5 percent).  The data is analyzed as following:

2.2.1        Workplace harassment and its categories

About 78 percent of respondents know what harassment is (Figure 1).  However, only 10 percent respondents of this group can tell two to three more categories of harassment, while the balance 90 percent can only tell sexual harassment.  This has proved that there is a very weak general awareness of workplace harassment in the company.

Stone (1998) has defined harassment as .any unwanted physical or verbal conduct designed to make a person feel unwelcome, offended, humiliated and/or intimidated・.  The Department of Education of Tasmania (2002) argues that workplace harassment is behavior that does not treat people with respect and dignity they deserve.  It is a breach of proper standards of conduct and behavior as it can cause the other person to feel hurt, insulted, frightened or ridiculed and may cause damaging stereotyping.  It is also the exertion of power by one person over another that can be formal (position) or informal (cultural dominant or physical strength). 

There are basically two types of illegal harassment: sexual harassment and hostile environment harassment:

Sexual harassment

According to the Department of Education of Tasmania (2002), sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and includes unwelcome physical sexual conduct; or verbal or non-verbal communication in the workplace of a sexual nature.  Stone (1998) argues that sexual harassment is not about sexual attraction; it is about the abuse of power.  Hence, both men and women can be the victims of sexual harassment, and both men and women can be harassers.

Sexual harassment may take the following forms:

(1)    Quid pro quo harassment involves .the conditioning of concrete employment benefits on sexual favors・ (Deadrick et al, 1996). 

(2)    Harassment which creates a sexually permeated or hostile work environment such as display of sexually explicit material, constant discussion of sexual matters (Stone, 1998).

(3)    Criminal behavior such as sexual assault or obscene communication (Stone, 1998).

Hostile environment harassment

Hostile environment harassment occurs when verbal or physical conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual・s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, whether or not such conduct is directly linked to economic job benefits (Deadrick et al, 1996).  Stone (1998) argues that harassment creates a hostile work environment is discrimination, even if the employee cannot show any specific employment detriment as a result of the harassment.  

The Department of Education of Tasmania (2002) has further categorized hostile environment into the following five major types:

(1)   Intimidatory harassment involves the thoughtless or intentional use of physical or organizational power to coerce a person to perform a particular action or to instill in the person a feeling of humiliation or intimidation.  

(2)   Bullying is the repeated less favorable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice.  It comprises the systematic, repeated and deliberate abuse of power by overt behaviors (intimidate or humiliate a worker in front of the others) or subtle means (withholding information and isolating a person within the workplace that they should be involved).

(3)   Harassment on the grounds of age, industrial activity, political activity, belief or affiliation, irrelevant criminal or medical record.

(4)   Inciting hatred on the grounds of race, disability, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, religious activity, belief or affiliation.

(5)   Victimization of any kind towards any employee who has reported an alleged harassment.

It is important for the company not only creating general awareness of workplace harassment, but also communicating downwards about all types of workplace harassment the employees should avoid.

2.2.2        Workplace harassment is illegal

It is surprising that only 67 percent of respondents know that workplace harassment might be illegal (Figure 2).  Boss (2000) warns that as the courts define the laws relating to workplace harassment, employers・ and employees・ responsibilities and liabilities will continue to be clarified as the courts・ interpretations are an indication of what may come in the future.

In the US, the number of sexual and non-sexual harassment charges filed increased 117 percent from 1988 to 1993, and one researcher has projected a five-fold increase in harassment charges from 1993 to the year 2005 (Deadrick et al, 1996).  Here are two examples of workplace harassment lawsuits in US (Zachary, 1999):

.13 Native Americans who filed suit against their employer to allow raced-based harassments to occur and the company agreed to pay $250,000 to the plaintiffs and reinforce its policy of providing a workplace free of harassment, in part through training of all employees.・

.In addition to expansion of harassment cases to new situations, there has been expansion to new categories of defendants.  Recently, in the first case in which federal discrimination laws were held to prevent unions from allowing their officers to harass company managers, a union agreed to pay $75,000 to settle the lawsuits.

Hence, the company must be proactive to build a harassment-free workplace to avoid such lawsuits in the future.  Except creating general awareness, the management should also remind and educate all employees that workplace harassment is illegal and its consequences.

2.2.3        Illegal harassment behavior

There is a very high percentage of respondents who have performed illegal behavior but most of them are unaware this might cause harassment (Figure 3).  According to the Department of Education of Tasmania (2002), the essential point in any type of harassment is that it is unwelcome, uninvited, unreciprocated and usually repeated.  If an employee feels uncomfortable and powerless to stop the behavior, or if it interferes with his/her ability to perform normal duties, then the distress caused by the behavior is real, regardless of the actual intentions of the other party.  Hence, harassment can be either deliberate or unintentional (Department of Education of Tasmania, 2002). 

The University of Sheffield (2000) reminds that anyone can suffer from harassment.  An action or statement does not have to be repeated over a long period of time to be defined as harassment.  A single statement or action may constitute harassment.  Even behavior which is not meant to cause offence or distress may do so.  It is the impact of the words or action, not the underlying intent which is important.

There are often arguments about the ambiguous of workplace harassment.  CWS (2002) has cited some examples of what generally constitutes harassment, what may constitute harassment and what does not generally constitute harassment (Figure 4):

What generally constitutes harassment

What may constitute harassment

What does not generally constitute harassment

Serious or repeated rude, degrading, or offensive remarks, such as teasing about a person's physical characteristics or appearance, put-downs or insults.

Displaying sexist, racist or other offensive pictures, posters, or sending e-mails related to one of categories of harassment

Criticizing an employee in public.

Allocating work.

Following-up on work absences.

Requiring performance to job standards.

Taking disciplinary measures.

A single or isolated incident such as an inappropriate remark or abrupt manner.

Repeatedly singling out an employee for meaningless or dirty jobs that are not part of their normal duties.

Exclusion from group activities or assignments.

Exclusion of individuals for a particular job based on specific occupational requirements necessary to accomplish the safe and efficient performance of the job.

Threats, intimidation or retaliation against an employee, including one who has expressed concerns about perceived unethical or illegal workplace behaviors.

Statements damaging to a person's reputation.

Measures taken against someone who is careless in his or her work, such as in the handling of secret documents.

Unwelcome social invitations, with sexual overtones or flirting, with a subordinate.

Unwelcome sexual advances.

Making sexually suggestive remarks.

Physical contact such as touching or pinching.

A social relationship welcomed by both individuals.

Friendly gestures among co-workers such as a pat on the back.

Figure 4: Examples of harassments

Using these examples, the management should develop some kind of behavior definitions as codes of practice, communicate and educate the employees, in order to enhance effective and efficient prevention of workplace harassment.

2.2.4        Approaches to manage harassment

When asking what approaches would be used to manage harassment, it is surprised to recognize that only 2 percent of respondents chose to report to their supervisors and 76 percents chose not to do anything (Figure 5).  There are various reasons why people do not complain about harassment such as fear of retaliation, lack of confidence, fear of ridicule, embarrassment or belief that it is normal behavior in the company.

Employees should not tolerate workplace harassment.  Cassidy (2002) suggests several approaches to manage harassment: direct approach such as telling the person harassing you that you object to this behavior; intervention by an advisor, mediation, and formal investigation. 

In order to support an anti-harassment workplace, the management should get involved to develop and implement appropriate approaches to manage harassment.  All employees must be aware that everyone in the company has the responsibility to build an anti-harassment workplace.  Managers and supervisors should be trained to act as an advisor or mediation for any complaints.  Employees should be encouraged to report any harassment in the company that happened on them or other employees.  Procedures for complaints and investigation must be set to avoid confusion.

2.2.5        Costs of workplace harassment

When asking whether there are costs of workplace harassment, 71 percent of respondents attribute that the company should be the one to lose, while 21 percent believe the costs at individual side and only 8 percent replied both (Figure 6).  In fact, workplace harassment creates a negative or hostile work environment, which can interfere with one・s performance and result in company・s losses. 

Costs to individual

For individuals, workplace harassment can take its toll in the form of mental and emotional stress and loss of income if they leave their job or take leave without pay as a result of the experience (APSC, 1998).  A study about gender and race harassment by Piotrkowski (Murray, 1998) shows that those who felt most harassed tended to perceive their workplace as hostile toward women and minorities.  It would cause ripple effects as more employees were harassed, the lower their job satisfaction and the higher their distress.  When this is not handled well, Rosenfeld et al (1999) argue that stress can hurt individual physiologically (rise in heart rate and blood pressure, etc) and psychologically (fear, anxiety, and tension).  Michael Mantell, a psychologist and expert in workplace violence, even warns that violence in the workplace is the ultimate manifestation of job stress (Bobbi, 1995).

Costs to the company

There are many costs to organizational performance in failing to educate employees and put in place adequate policies and programs to eliminate workplace harassment.  The threat of litigation is real and the total cost to an organization greatly exceeds the legal and settlement costs.  APSC (1998) argues that organizations tolerate workplace harassment need to pay for the cost of lost opportunities because they would have difficulty attracting and retaining high performing employees.  Moreover, workplace harassment can have an impact on an organization・s effectiveness through reduced employee morale, high turnover, negative publicity for the corporation, damaged careers and reputations, lost productivity, loss of potential clients, increased stress levels, and increased absenteeism (CSW, 2002). 

2.2.6        Roles of management and employees

When asking who should be responsible for a harassment-free workplace, more than half of the respondents agree that it is the roles of both management and employees to build such an environment (Figure 7).  Bobbi (1995) argues that the problems of workplace harassment can be minimized if employers begin evaluating the environment their employees are working in and begin making the changes necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees.  The key components of healthy organizations are communication, trust, opportunity for personal growth and development, fairness, team ethics, humanistic policies, procedures and practices (Bobbi, 1995).

APSC (1998) also stresses that the management・s roles include people management, prevention of harassment, share the legal and managerial responsibilities for detecting and dealing with behavior which constitutes harassment or has the potential to develop into harassment.  While the roles of individual are to ensure their behavior meets acceptable standards and to contribute to a productive work environment.

Furthermore, the EEOC of the US (IET, 2002) suggests some guidance of roles of management to prevent workplace harassment:

(1)    Employers should take preventive measures to prohibit all forms of unlawful harassment.

(2)    Employers should communicate their anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure to all employees periodically.

(3)    If an employee is accused of any types of harassment and an investigation is inconclusive, the employer should still train and monitor the alleged harasser.

(4)    Employers should consider the discipline, discharge, training and monitoring when taking immediate and appropriate corrective action to ensure that harassment does not recur.

3.      Conclusion and implications

The analysis concludes that there is a very weak awareness of workplace harassment in ABC-HK.  It is a challenge to both the company and the employees as they must be aware of the possible legal ramifications of ignoring workplace harassment.  The company should recognize the problems of harassment in the workplace and the serious effects harassment can have on the working lives of employees.  It is also a recognition that people with different backgrounds, interests and friendship groups need to get along with each other in the workplace if an organization is to be effective.

The analysis also implies that awareness, communication and early intervention are keys to a harassment-free work environment.  Everyone has a personal responsibility in making this happen.  The most effective approach to preventing harassment involves developing employee responsibility for maintaining a harassment-free work environment, thus developing an environment of mutual respect where individuals take it on themselves to monitor and eliminate harassment from the workplace.

Finally, due to its international background, the company must implement worldwide human resource administration programs to preserve corporate reputation and image, enhance recruiting and retention of a competitive workforce, and avoid violation of the laws in its operating countries.

4.      Alternative strategies

Based on the above conclusion, the following alternative strategies are suggested:

Strategy 1: Do nothing

Do nothing means ignore unacceptable behavior.  It is a very short-term strategy as workplace harassment will still continue.  It is possible that a real problem might finally occur and it would be too late to control when the problem is realized.

Strategy 2: Institute company policies and systems

This strategy includes the institution of a strong company policy against harassment; and communicates the policy to employees in employee manuals, and places reminders on posters positioned in well-trafficked areas.  It also involves the creation of system for handling complaints and documentation.  The system should have alternative channels for reporting complaints.

Strategy 3: Training and education

This strategy suggests conducting employee training sessions to identify harassment behaviors and hostile environments, and spell out potential disciplinary actions.  Provide training on harassment prevention enables a defendant to more readily defend itself (Prince, 2002).  However, this will allow the employees to decide their behavior without enforcement.

Strategy 4: Develop culture of respect

This strategy is a cultural approach to dealing with harassment in the workplace that concentrate on getting employees to view the adoption of anti-harassment, or mutual respect, goals and procedures as a choice made by them to improve the quality of their working environment (Deadrick et al, 1996). 

5.      Recommendations

Strategy 1 is a very short-term option and it would hurt the performance of individual and the company in the long-term.  Hence, it is recommended that ABC-HK should use a combination of strategies 2-4 to solve the problem.  Strategy 2 is a short to medium term option because merely imposing polices and systems cannot change the behaviors of the employees for the long-term.  Strategy 3 is a medium term option as employees are educated for the correct workplace behavior.  However, it will depend on the individual readiness and decision on the behavior.  Strategy 4 is a long-term option as culture is the structure of social action, and symbols and codes of meaning within an organization (Rosenfeld et al, 1999).  Hence, culture is more influential as Jaques states that .its customary and traditional way of thinking and of doing things, which is shared to a greater or lesser degree by all members, and which the new members must learn and at least partially accept, in order to be accepted into the services of the firm・ (Rosefeld et al, 1999).

6.      Plan of actions

The plan of actions is suggested as Figure 8 (Howard-Martin, 2002; Deadrick et al, 1996):




Department involved

Institute policies and systems

Week 1-12

1.            Statement about zero tolerance for any kind of harassment

2.            Provide examples of inappropriate behavior

3.            Systems for reporting inappropriate or questionable behavior

4.            Statement to describe investigative process and procedure for resolving issues

5.            Punish statement for any severe or repeated infractions



All employees

Training and education

Week 5-16

1.            Personnel manuals

2.            Bulletin boards

3.            Periodically mail policy to employees

4.            Compulsory training sessions


All employees

Outside consultants

Develop culture of respect

Week 1-continue process

1.            Problem recognition: organization-wide recognition of harassment problems and the need for a mutual respect culture

2.            Determine obstacles to change: such as disrupted habits, loss of face, etc

3.            Create desire to change: empower employees to facilitate change

4.            Monitor and evaluate change effectiveness: feedback



All employees

Outside consultants

Figure 8: Plan of actions

Reference Lists

.Achieving a Harassment-Free Workplace・ (1998), Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

Bobbi, Lambert (1995), .Give Your Company A Checkup・, Personnel Journal, [Online, accessed 23 September 2002]

Boss, Donna (2000), .Preventing Harassment・, Nation・s Restaurant News, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

Cassidy, Nicola (2002), .Human Resources & Organizational Development・, The University of New Brunswick, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

Deadrick, Diana L; McAfee, R Bruce and Champagne, Paul J (1996), .Preventing Workplace Harassment: An Organizational Change Perspective・, Journal of Organizational Change Management, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

.Harassment: What is it and What to do about it・ (2000), The University of Sheffield, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

.Harassment: What is It, and What to Do About It・ (1998), Canadian Human Rights Commission, [Online, accessed 30 December 1998]

Howard-Martin, Jane (2002), .Stop Workplace Harassment in Your Company・, Careers Network, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

Maatman, Gerald L (2000), .Harassment, Discrimination Laws Go Global・, National Underwriter, [Online, accessed 23 September 2002]

Murray, Bridget (1998), .Workplace harassment hurts everyone on the job・, American Psychological Association, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

Prince, Michael (2002), .Online Tools Aiding Harassment-Prevention Efforts・, Business Insurance, [Online, accessed 23 September 2002]

.Prevention of Harassment at Work・ (2002), Co-operative Group (CWS) Ltd, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

Rosenfeld, Robert H and Wilson, David C (1999), Managing Organizations: Text, Readings & Cases, 2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill, Berkshire

Stone, Raymond J (1998), Human Resource Management, 3rd Edition, Jacaranda Wiley, Milton

.Tips to Help Prevent Workplace Harassment・ (2002), Interactive Employment Training, Inc (IET), [Online, accessed 24 September 2002]

.Workplace Diversity, Discrimination and Harassment・ (2002), Department of Education of Tasmania, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

Zachary, Mary-Kathryn (1999), .Harassment: The Other Varieties Are On The Upswing・, Supervision, [Online, accessed 10 September 2002]

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