Increase in work harassment in Belgium despite reform of anti-harassment legislation
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Increase in work harassment in Belgium despite reform of anti-harassment legislation

Harassment at work has increased by 21 % in the last two years. According to a survey by Securex, a human resources provider, to some 1700 respondents, 29 % of Belgian employees report that they face harassment at work.

The figures in the survey are alarming. 19 % of the respondents have been physically assaulted at their work place, 14 % feel that they are bullied, 2 % feel sexually harassed and 14 % discriminated.

The effects of work harassment (mobbing) are devastating. The process starts when some-one at the work place is singled out. It escalates to recurrent abuses, continues with ostracism and often ends with exclusion from the work place, illness and early retirement. In the worst case it ends with suicide.

“The number of workers that report that they have faced forms of abusive behavior increased significantly compared to 2013, when 24 % of the employees reported that they were harassed at work,” says Securex in a statement.

In two of three cases, the employee who is a victim of harassment at work points to his manager; in 30% of cases it is a colleague, in 19%  a group of colleagues and in 36% of the cases it is a person from outside the company.

In case of aggression at the workplace, the survey cited most often (46% of the cases) a person outside the company such as a client or patient.

As regards employees who say they are victims of sexual harassment, the perpetrator in all cases is a superior. But 42% state that this behavior also involved a colleague, 16% a group of colleagues and 23% an outsider.

According to the survey, workers who feel harassed, discriminated against or attacked are two to three times more likely to be absent from work for more than a month.
They are also more likely to be frequently absent (three or more times in a year). Their desire to leave the current employer in the short or long term is also higher.

Securex proposes some measures that could be taken by employers to counter harassment at work:
–    Make employers and employees more competent when it comes to resolving a conflict or unacceptable behavior;
–    Promote cultural change; signal clearly that no abusive behavior will be tolerated; and encourage workers to appeal to someone whom they trust or find support from a prevention consultant.

The figures in Securex´ survey may come as a surprise considering the fact that Belgium amended its anti-harassment legislation in 2014. The new law on prevention of psycho-social risks at work introduced detailed internal procedures in companies with brief deadlines to prevent and stop harassment.

Early results showed that 80 % of all cases could be resolved inside the company. This reduced the risk of harassment dragging on without anyone trying to stop it until the victim becomes ill and traumatized.

Anti-harassment legislation in for example Belgium and France also makes it possible to prosecute and convict those responsible for work harassment.

However, on EU level, there is currently no harmonized legislative approach on preventing work harassment. In 2007, an autonomous non-binding framework agreement on harassment and violence at work was concluded between the social partners but implementation in the Member States is uneven.

The Brussels Times