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Why must employers take action against violence and harassment at work?

Updated: Mar 24

2.2 Why must employers take action against violence and harassment at work?

Violence and harassment is not only unacceptable on moral grounds, but it can be a violation of workers’ rights and employers’ statutory duties and common law obligations. Creating a world of work free from violence and harassment would have benefits for businesses, including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and lower employee turnover. Enterprises that are known for having respectful and inclusive working environments may have a higher market value and reputation, happier and healthier employees, increased investor confidence and better customer and client satisfaction ratings than their competitors.

2.2.1. Legal obligations, litigations and claims

Employers have a duty of care towards their workforce and should create an inclusive working environment free from violence and harassment regardless of the size or sector of the enterprise. This means that employers have a duty to take reasonably practical steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of their workforce. The reasonableness of a measure can be determined by considering the potential risk of harm to the individual compared to the cost and practicality of putting the preventative measure in place.

Employers may have breached national laws and regulations if they fail to conduct a risk assessment and implement necessary measures, and they could be liable for such failure. To fulfil their duty of care, employers should ensure that the workforce is protected from violence and harassment. Some countries have provisions in work-related legislation that prohibit violence and harassment or some of its forms, and impose obligations on employers to protect workers and prohibit violence and harassment at work.

Employers may be liable if their workers attack or harass or are attacked or harassed by a co-worker, client or customer while working or in work-related situations.

Violations of the obligations on employers may result in law suits, litigation or claims for compensation. In 2020, a number of multinational enterprises in the United States faced legal battles over allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment (Sonnemaker 2021) and a global video games enterprise was charged for failure to take measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, with allegations that its employees had been subjected to “sexual harassment that was severe or pervasive” (Spiggle 2021).

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