Harassment at work: you aren’t imagining it
Harassment in the workplace can be complicated. As terrible as sexual harassment is, it isn’t the only way a person can feel worthless or threatened at work.
Unfortunately, many people experience harassment in the workplace. But they think that because it isn’t sexual, it doesn’t count. But harassment includes things that make work harder, that make the work environment hostile, and difficult to be in. Workplace harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, physical, and behavioural as explained by some young professionals.
Physical and sexual harassment
‘A male workmate smacked my behind on my second day at work. When I reported him. My boss asked that I let him handle it and to not make a big deal about it because that workmate happened to be married with children.
‘He didn’t get punished and no action was taken against him but he never did it again or talk to me for that matter. Work became very uncomfortable for me after that and I didn’t end up staying.’
‘My former boss used to abuse and yell at me in front of my workmates. I was new and was still getting to know my way around everything. To make it even more stressful, I had not received any training and was left to manage on my own. The thing that put me over the edge was when he insulted my family over a tragedy that needed me to take time off. I quit on the spot and have never worked in that sector again.’
‘I once worked in a production house run by a very negligent manager. She would pay employees late and still expect them to work and keep to their deadlines. When people complained she would threaten to withhold their already late payments. It was bad but manageable until my wife went into labour and I needed the money I was owed.
‘Because it was an emergency she wrote me a cheque for the full amount. The cheque bounced… and everything went into chaos for me and my family.’
‘At my last job, my boss would fire and un-fire us at will. He would get triggered by different things and take it out on us.
Once he fired me and then, after two weeks, called to ask why I hadn’t reported working. He then told me I would have to work two weeks without pay, to make up for it.
‘Like my other workmates, I had no other options and he knew that. I left the first opportunity I got and even then he threatened to contact my new employer with a bad work review if I didn’t help him when he needed me to. He eventually left me alone but I was in constant fear until he did.’
‘I once worked for a multi-national at a job that I loved. However, when one of our regional clients got a new head of operations, things took a turn. The new head would throw racial slurs at us whenever he wasn’t happy with something. Imagine being regularly called a “monkey” and other offensive names in your own country?’
‘I went to school in a different country so I got a job to help with my daily needs. It was amazing and I rose up in the ranks pretty fast. In my new position, I was one of the people in charge of counting the day’s sales before closing and depositing the money first thing in the morning. One day money went missing on a day that I was in charge.
‘The lie-detector test confirmed my innocence. It turned out one of my workmates was to blame but because he was both a local and a relative to the company head, I was forced out and used as his scapegoat. I got a lucrative package but the incident left such a bad taste in my mouth I left the country immediately.’
Although these young professionals found a way to leave, it isn’t always possible for some people or the only way to deal with workplace harassment.
We suggest that you first document the incident or gather evidence where possible like in cases of late payments. Then, do your homework. Look through the organization’s policy for how best to forward your complaint and to whom, because your immediate boss may not always be your best bet.
If such a policy doesn’t exist, delicately ask around the office and find out what others have done in the past. You might be surprised to find other people have had the same experience and you can band together to change things.
Most importantly remember your family and friends are your best support system so lean on them to help you process and get through things.
Have you experienced harassment at work? Share your story below or on Facebook, on Love Matters Africa and Love Matters Naija.