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Harassment has potential to breed violence when unchecked!


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My colleagues and I recently made fun of the possible employment law issues that could come out of the implementation of full-body scanners as a form of screening device for airport security. But I never expected this, and so soon.

The Miami Herald recently reported that an airport security employee was arrested for beating up a co-worker for making fun of the size of his “privates” during testing of controversial full-body image scanners.

This is a great case of how harassment was ignored repeatedly over a year and built up to become a violent incident.

Rolando Negrin can be portrayed as a victim as well as the precursor of a violent act.

According to the newspaper, Negrin had been the butt of his colleagues’ jokes for a year after the security scanners—which are used to detect foreign objects hidden under a person’s clothes, but in the process show a person’s private parts—revealed he had a small penis.

The frustrated screener told police:

“Co-workers made fun of him on a daily basis and … he could not take the jokes any more and lost his mind”.

Moreover, the day of the alleged attack, Negrin waited in the parking lot for the colleague in question to talk about the issue of respect. The colleague refused to hear him so Negrin took out what they say to be a police baton (from where, I do not know), threatened to kill his colleague if he did not apologize, and started hitting the person on his arms and back until the victim kneeled and said sorry.

The victim suffered “bruises and abrasions on his back and arms” during the attack and pressed charges.

The Smoking Gun website has a copy of the police report online.

The employer, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said:

“TSA has a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence. Per our normal procedures, the officer charged is being suspended pending further investigation into this matter. We are investigating to determine whether training procedures were violated and will take appropriate action as necessary. The actions of a few individuals in no way reflect on the outstanding job our more than 49,000 security officers do every day to ensure the safety of the traveling public.”

I think, in this case, more than training procedures were violated. The violence prevention program and policy was also. And the lack of a harassment program and policy did not help.

The thing employers and employees need to understand is that violence does not always rear its ugly head instantaneously. Acts of harassment have a tendency to lead to violence if not dealt with effectively by the employer, as well as by the employees.

Harassment is unwelcome, unwanted and uninvited; it may be expressed verbally or physically; it is usually coercive, and it can occur as a single incident or on a repeated basis. It comprises actions, attitudes, language or gestures, which the harasser knows, or reasonably ought to know, are abusive, unwelcome or wrong.

Unwelcome remarks, jokes, innuendo, taunts or other discriminatory communication, and insulting or malicious gestures or practical jokes which cause someone embarrassment or discomfort, are all forms of harassment. Unchecked, these actions can lead to violence when a victim of harassment can’t bear it any longer.

In this case, the victim became the perpetrator of violence, which is any physical assault or threat of physical assault. The employee tried to right a wrong with another wrong.

If the employer had a harassment program and policy in conjunction with its violence program and policy, outlining expectations, standards, guidelines, training and support, it would have given the employee another outlet to turn to before the situation got out of control and escalated to violence. If the employer had dealt with the workplace harassment the employee was subjected to, it may have prevented the violent incident that ensued.

Employers need to develop a written policy dealing with harassment, indicating that harassment is against the law, violates company policy and can breed incidents of workplace violence when not complied to.

Employers need to develop a harassment prevention program that includes an effective complaint procedure for workers subjected to harassment. Provide a mechanism for employees to bypass their supervisor when the supervisor participates in the harassment or fails to take proper action. The complaint procedure should encourage a prompt solution to the problem.

Employers, especially supervisors and managers, need to promptly and effectively respond to harassment complaints, particularly if the harassment is witnessed by others or is commonplace, even if the employee has not complained.

Employers should undertake a complete and confidential investigation of any allegations or evidence of harassment, and impose appropriate disciplinary action.

Employers should also prevent harassment before it occurs. Circulate or post the company anti-harassment policy as well as human rights and occupational health and safety rules on harassment and violence.

Further, it’s crucial to express strong disapproval of such conduct, and tell employees of their right to be free from harassment.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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