Stalking in the workplace
Stalking in the workplace can have severe consequences for the victim and their colleagues. Although fortunately rare, this can even result in serious or fatal injury for anyone present at the time. While research into stalking victimisation in the workplace has primarily focused on mental health professionals, it is clear that stalking affects victims in all types of workplaces. The importance of supportive and appropriate measures to assist victims and ensure the overall safety of any workplace cannot be over emphasised.
Workplace stalking can arise from many different contexts, including:
- Stalking intruding into the workplace from victimisation outside work
- Clients stalking staff
- Clients stalking other clients
- Staff stalking co-workers
Stalking in the workplace can have a detrimental impact on work performance not only for the victim, but also those they work with. To reduce the effect that stalking may have on productivity, it is important to understand the reasons why job performance may deteriorate and then look to ways that your organisation can help employees to overcome these problems. The workplace can be impacted in a number of ways:
Time off work
- Sick leave – the victim and third parties with psychological symptoms
- Frightened to leave the house
- Attending to legal matters
- Avoiding work if the stalker is a co-worker
Deteriorating work performance and relations
- Unable to concentrate on work when in attendance
- Difficulty catching up after missed days
- Time lost due to stalking intruding on the workplace e.g. phone calls, approaches etc
- Tension in the workplace arising from allegations made against the victim that they have somehow encouraged the stalker or are over reacting
Stalking is a crime in most Western jurisdictions, and all workplaces have an ethical and legal obligation to manage stalking behaviour and support those who are affected. Many victims state that they are reluctant to speak with managers and co-workers about being stalked out of embarrassment and/or fear. It is up to the employer to create an environment where victims feel safe to report this behaviour. Central to this is making it clear that stalking victims are not to blame for their predicament, even if the victim was previously in a relationship with the stalker. Employers should also ensure that other employees are made aware of stalking situations when they have a role in managing the risks. A very real danger for many stalking victims is that fellow employees are often unaware of the dangers of stalking, particularly receptionists and others responsible for entry into a business. The most effective way to reduce the impact of stalking is to determine how the victim and other employees can be supported.
The best way to reduce the possibility of harassment in the workplace is to ensure that all employees understand how to deal effectively with potential problems that may result in a stalking situation. Stalking situations are more effectively managed when employees are aware of exactly what they need to do under such circumstances and therefore feel better equipped to deal with the problem. The impact of conflict is reduced when organisations:
- develop and enforce strong policies on what constitutes inappropriate contact and harassment at work, either by clients or co-workers.
- develop policies that detail the process for dealing with aggressive or agitated individuals and for reporting complaints, suspicious behaviour and critical incidents.
- review policies on a regular basis and ensure amendments are made following any critical incident.
- educate management and employees about bullying and stalking behaviours and what they need to do if such a situation arises. It is crucial that employees do not feel that they will be judged as overreacting if they report something that they think might be trivial. It is better to praise the individual for being alert, rather than try to repair the damage that may arise if incidents are not reported.
- have policies and procedures in place that provide for the support of victims and employees should an adverse event occur.
When stalking occurs:
Everyone who may have contact with the stalker should be informed about the situation and have a refresher on the policy and procedures for dealing with harassing behaviour. This should be tailored to the specific situation and victim/s. Staff can become frightened when such a situation is discussed, so the issue should be broached in a calm manner, emphasising that there are policies and procedures in place to deal with the situation. It is important to explain that remaining calm and following procedures is the best way to prevent the escalation of any adverse situations.
General Measures for Managing Stalking Situations
Ensure that the victim understands that they have your support and that they can talk about their concerns. This will place you in a better position to understand the issues involved and then plan the best approach to protect the victim and other employees. You need to know if a restraining order is in place, so encourage the victim to disclose the relevant information regarding the worksite.
- Review the relevant security issues e.g. site access, car park lighting, bushes that provide hiding places
- Try to provide a safe car-park for the victim. Have someone walk the victim to their car.
- If possible, allow the victim to work flexible hours so that they can vary the time that they arrive and leave work.
- Ensure that staff apply necessary precautions such as screening phone calls and people that come to the office.
- If a co-worker receives a call from the stalker or has seen them around the workplace, ensure they know to report it immediately to management and document it.
- If a restraining order prohibits the stalker from the workplace, call the police immediately and file a report, should he/she appear.
- Ensure that no one gives out any information e.g. days or hours of work, phone numbers etc.
The better your company understands stalking, the better protection you and your fellow employees will have.
Managing Internal Stalkers (e.g. staff stalking other staff)
All situations of harassment in the workplace need to be addressed by management, not only in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, but also to reduce the impact on all parties personally, professionally and from the organisation’s perspective. To do so it is important to adhere to the following:
- Always maintain the dignity of both parties by listening to both sides and explaining why decisions are being made.
- Do not rationalise or excuse stalking behaviour.
- Reinforce policies that prohibit harassment, and emphasise the consequences of breaches.
- Do not attempt mediation unless the victim is willing to do so. It is crucial that the victim does not feel pressured into a mediation process simply because the harassment has occurred in the workplace. Be sensitive to the victim’s feelings and avoid facilitating continued traumatisation of the victim.
- If the stalker has a grievance, suggest appropriate means of addressing the problem (e.g., complaints procedures or mediation), but do not collude with the inappropriate behaviour or inadvertently provide alternative avenues of harassment.
- Contact the police if necessary