Protecting employees

During the past week, I was inundated with calls about the outcome of a case of workplace abuse that occurred at the Bank of Nova Scotia and made public by the media.

Many of the callers wanted to know why such treatment is still going on despite the myriads of information and management training about Safety and Health At Work Act. One caller wanted to know if such treatment was included under the act.

I have in the past written several articles about workplace abuse/bullying/ harassment but it appears as if some managers think that treating employees with respect and dignity is not within their purview. You would be surprised to hear that another caller informed me that she opted to leave another bank after she was physically assaulted by an employee who was looked upon as “a blue eye boy” in that organisation.

According to the report, she was on a staff cruise and this individual, who appeared to have had a few drinks, gave her a slap on her derri√re while making rude comments. She, like “a good girl scout” returned the favour and decked him one. Well as it turned out this behaviour was frowned upon by top management who, made excuses for the “young Turk’s” behaviour.

On the other hand, they conveyed the impression that her behaviour was unacceptable since he was promoted shortly after the incident but she was ridiculed at every opportunity. Well, it is now looking like abuse in the workplace is turning into violence but the root cause still remains, that is, lack of respect for others, especially females.

We would be foolish to believe that these behaviours are isolated cases. Au contraire, from the many conversations I have had with several employees over the years, workplace abuse/violence seems to be on the rise. Many of the victims find it difficult to leave for several reasons: ranging from financial responsibilities to lack of confidence in finding another job due to the current economic situation. So they suffer in silence.

The article this week is about safety and health in the workplace and its linkages to abuse, harassment and violence among employees.

We have recently heard about the long sought after Safety and Health At Work Act which appears to have replaced the archaic Factories Act. As usual, I depended on research to assist me in explaining any matter that is brought to my attention. So firstly, I perused the Safety and Health At Work Act of Barbados on the website of the Ministry of Labour to see if any of the components of the Act addressed workplace harassment or abuse (

Unfortunately, the information that I found appeared to focus only on physical acts such as accidents/mishaps etc. to persons while working. I am not saying that this is not important but the workplace has evolved quite a bit from what obtained during the Industrial Revolution (where accidents from exposure to machinery was prevalent) into a more service oriented one where psychological abuse is ubiquitous. If I am wrong, I apologise to my friends at the Ministry of Labour, but I did not find your website very user friendly.

Next, I examined the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Toronto, Canada and found a document on Safety Guidelines published by their Ministry of Labour in March 2010 on this site ( The paper addressed issues such as workplace violence and harassment, which to my mind falls under the ambit of safety and health inter alia.

The author (s) of this paper, suggests that employers, supervisors as well as ordinary employees share a responsibility for occupational health and safety. This means that we should not wait for someone to run to our rescue but we should take responsibility to ensure that our workplace is a safe place for all stakeholders.

Far too often we take a wait and see approach and at times give the impression that we cannot think for ourselves but when some individual comes from “over and away” or someone decides to take a case to court and wins, then and only then do we see it fit to make changes to our behaviour.

Meanwhile, complaints about abuse or harassment in the workplace are on the increase and far too many employees are turning the other cheek because of fear of victimisation or job loss. Don’t be deceived, there is a lot of preferential treatment taking place in organisations across the country and if employees do not “dance to the drum” of some senior members of management they are “hung out to dry”.

One instance, which was brought to my attention, was the refusal of an organisation to provide a reference for an employee who left that organisation for another job for reasons unrelated to job performance. This upset the previous boss so much, that he refused to provide a reference letter even though she could supply evidence of high levels of performance.

This action alone should be considered abusive since to me it infringes on the individual’s human rights. Unfortunately, until we get around to updating the existing act many areas of concern would not be included. Given this situation, one should not be surprised at the prevailing low morale in workplaces across the county not to mention the poor customer service.

The problem here, is some employees act as if they will never be affected by such a predicament until it occurs to them, while others look the other way and converse among themselves. More importantly, some individuals especially women act as if harassment or abuse is natural and may pretend that it never happened in order to keep their job or get that promotion. Some may even advise the victim not to do anything because “that is how he or she is” so many instances of harassment or abuse have gone unreported.

It is about time that employees stop accepting any form of humiliating behaviour and decide that the workplace should be a safe place to work and co-exist with peers. Many employees/employers do not recognise that any unwanted behaviour (ranging from offensive remarks to inappropriate touching or hitting) can be considered abusive or harassment in the workplace until the victim retaliates and the law intervenes.

Meanwhile, we can all suggest that the Safety and Health At Work Act be updated to include problems such as workplace violence, abuse, bullying, harassment and any form of inappropriate behaviour since such behaviours also impact on the safety and psychological health of employees.

However, this exclusion does not negate management from using good common sense and judgement and developing rules and procedures that ensure that employees are protected. If this was done the whole issue with the Bank of Nova Scotia would not have occurred. In addition, management must be cognisant that if inappropriate behaviour (like touching, rude comments and hitting) is allowed to go unchecked it could develop into workplace violence since the victim may one day retaliate, so what happens then? Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Psychology and Management Consultant

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