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Hazing in the Workplace editorial staff editorial staff

You can address workplace hazing with multiple strategies.

  • Hazing in the workplace occurs when a new employee is forced to commit uncomfortable, demeaning or dangerous acts as a form of indoctrination. The employee is told they must comply in order to be accepted by the collective group.
  • Corporate hazing laws are not fully established. However, any criminal acts committed during the hazing rituals are punishable by law. As an example, any type of physical or sexual assault against another employee is illegal.
  • Businesses must establish anti-hazing rules within the workplace. These rules aim to protect new hires from any form of harassment and prevent lawsuits.

What constitutes hazing in the workplace?

Although many of us are aware of college hazing incidences, workplace hazing has also emerged as a serious problem. According to the Law Offices of Levi Williams, corporate hazing involves any type of behavior that makes the employee feel threatened, harassed or humiliated. Hazing in the workplace often involves a new employee who seasoned employees feel they can take advantage of. For instance, the new employee may be told to perform tedious or demeaning jobs for the amusement of their colleagues. The hazing is concealed by perpetrators as being just a joke.

Hazing is any action that has the intent of causing humiliation or harm (emotional or physical) to the person. Hazing is associated with workplace bullying, but somewhat different. Hazing is supposed to indoctrinate the employee, making them "one of the gang." Hazing incidents occur when the employee is forced into an uncomfortable situation as a way to be accepted by the rest of the group. Bullying incidents can occur between individuals, while hazing normally involves a group of employees.

Although hazing is often mild in the workplace, severe cases have occurred. Lawsuits have been launched against companies that allowed their employees to initiate new hires using distressing methods. New hires have been locked in buildings and held against their will as part of past hazing lawsuits.

Laws against workplace hazing

Hazing in the workplace is not covered under specific legislation. Hazing is only illegal if acts committed during the hazing were criminal. For instance, any type of physical or sexual assault would be punishable by law. There are also legal protections if the workplace hazing was discriminatory and occurred due to the person's race, sex or religion. If hazing has become an issue in the workplace, then the employee may decide to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Even if criminal charges can't be levied against the perpetrators, it's possible that the employee could sue the company for not protecting them from the hazing. Settlements in excess of $1 million have been made against companies for failing to protect their employees from hazing rituals.

Strategies to address workplace hazing

Workplace hazing incidents may lead to serious injuries at work, divide the workplace and prevent employees from getting their jobs done. These incidents often go unnoticed or ignored as harmless fun. Some employers assume that hazing is just a bonding experience. However, making that mistake may jeopardize the future of your small business. Incidents of hazing include employees engaging in reckless horseplay, social pressure to participate in unsafe acts, bullying, harassment and violence.

Employers looking to develop effective hazing policies must train their staff to recognize and confront hazing in the workplace. Team-building exercises allow staff to work together to solve problems, increase communication and foster group reliance. It's your responsibility as the business owner to ensure all employees have a safe, respectful and harassment-free work environment. Consider the following preventive hazing methods in the workplace:

  1. Create a workplace hazing policy to ensure management and staff recognize incidents.
  2. Reinforce your policy about hazing in the workplace with materials to show unsafe behaviors.
  3. Build trust and help employees form bonds with team-building exercises.

1. Develop and design workplace hazing policies.

Protect your small business and employees by making it clear that hazing and harassment are unacceptable. Learn best practices and implement strategies that managers and employees can adopt.

2. Clearly communicate your workplace hazing policy.

Make sure all staff is aware of the consequences of hazing in the workplace. List unacceptable behaviors and post them in common areas for employees to increase awareness. Also use posters, online materials and targeted training videos to show the dangers of hazing incidents.

3. Teach team-building skills.

Small businesses often discover hazing in the workplace when employees are unable to communicate with each other. Team-building exercises teach employees how to trust each other and form group bonds without the danger and fear found in workplace hazing.

Protect your small business budget by disseminating information on hazing in the workplace before it gets out of hand. Employees can file workers' compensation claims for injuries caused by hazing. If you find hazing in the workplace, you must act swiftly to address it.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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