Respecting Professional Boundaries

29-11-2011Have you ever patted an employee on the back to praise them? Or, have you ever asked them a deeply personal question simply because you care about their well- being? While your intentions may be good, your staff may perceive these gestures in a completely different way than you would like them to. Sometimes we work so closely with our staff that the boundary between employee and friend can become blurred. Despite having the best intentions, as a person of authority, you should be cognizant about how you interact with your employees.

In order to protect yourself and your brand’s reputation from unsavoury allegations, I encourage all businesses, no matter their size, to implement a workplace harassment policy. In fact, all employers are required to have a workplace harassment policy under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The purpose of a workplace harassment policy is to ensure there are procedures in place to prevent and handle employee harassment complaints. If there aren’t documented procedures that you and your employees can easily reference as needed, you potentially open yourself up to legal repercussions. To avoid any grey area, there are template policies you can use to create your own.

Your workplace harassment policy can cover as little or as much as you deem necessary for your business, but here are a few subjects to take into consideration:

 

Verbal Phrasing

I strongly suggest mulling over every comment in your head before sharing them with employees, because carefree comments from a superior can easily be misunderstood as inappropriate or intimidating. Some employees may give you the benefit of the doubt over simple mistakes, but there may be others who take offense. The same goes for jokes; a joke that went over well at a friend or family gathering may not be appropriate for the workplace.

 

Physical Actions

You may have the most innocent of intentions when you pat an employee on the back or place a hand on their shoulder, but not everyone will realize this. If you have a habit of casually touching people when you speak to them, I would suggest trying to break it. If you’re unaware of any such habits, I would recommend taking a day or week to be particularly conscious of your actions around employees; you might have a habit you didn’t know about.

 

Visuals

Décor such as calendars, posters, paintings, statues, and any other form of decoration brought into the workplace should be chosen with a purely professional mindset. Where possible, I suggest choosing pieces that won’t cause debate over the definition of “tasteful.” And similarly to being cautious of jokes you share with employees, satirical images may not be as well received among employees as they can be among friends.

For specifics on what topics should be avoided in the workplace and to ensure discriminatory or offensive remarks/actions don’t take place, consider reviewing the Ontario Human Rights Code.

If you need help manoeuvring around this delicate subject and want to discuss how to implement an effective workplace harassment policy, contact me today to join a TAB peer advisory board.

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