- Unwanted sexual attention / sexual harassment
- Improper conduct
- Personal conflicts
- Unfortunate and foreseeable
Conflict can be defined as follows:
Two individuals - an individual and a group - or two groups - are in conflict when at least one party experiences the other as an obstacle or as a source of frustration (Professor Ståle Einarsen, UiB).
The Working Environment Act does not protect workers against conflicts as such, but its section 4-3 states that employees shall not be exposed to unfortunate physical or psychological events arising from conflict; harassment, violation of integrity and dignity or other improper conduct.
Harassment is according to Norwegian legislation “acts, omissions or statements that have the effect or purpose of being offensive, frightening, hostile, degrading or humiliating”, cf. the Anti-Discrimination Act section 9, the Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act section 8 and the Gender Equality Act section 8.
Harassment is prohibited by the provisions of both the Working Environment Act (sections 4-3 (3) and 13-1) and the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act. The prohibition includes political views, membership of trade unions, age, ethnicity, religion, belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Harassment can be either an isolated or repeated event.
The Labour Inspection Authority states that the most important characteristics of harassment are that the conduct is undesirable, unsolicited and one-way.
According to the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act section 13, paragraph 3, sexual harassment is:
any form of unwanted sexual attention that has the purpose or effect of being offensive, frightening, hostile, degrading, humiliating or troublesome
The equality and anti-discrimination ombudsman (LSO) has together with the Labour Inspection Authority come up with some common points to describe what sexual harassment is and may be:
- Undesired sexual attention.
- Perceived as uncomfortable for the person receiving attention
- Sexual comments about figure and looks, grabbing, groping, touching and abuse
- Showing pictures or videos of pornographic or sexualised content and sexual movement
- A single incident of unwanted behaviour can also be characterised as sexual harassment
- If there is an imbalance in the relationship of strength or power, this is aggravating. E.g. the relationship between supervisor and student.
It is the recipient of the attention that determines whether it is undesirable. There is no requirement for the purpose or intention of the sender.
The word bullying is used in daily language, but it is not a term mentioned in the Working Environment Act. If the phenomenon is to be described legally, the term harassment is used (in its legal sense, the term harassment includes bullying).
The relationship of strength between the parties is not necessarily about formal location in the organisation hierarchy. An employee may be subject to bullying from both managers and colleagues.
Improper conduct is covered by the term harassment, but it also refers to negative and inappropriate or unfortunate acts beyond what covered by the term harassment, including violence. Violence occurs when one or more employees are mutilated under circumstances associated with the work.
Conflicts, in the sense of normal disagreements, are not harassment as such, although they may of course result in improper conduct.
Personal conflicts often concern identity and self-esteem and emerge between people who, for one reason or another, do not agree - a collaborative dispute which over time evolves to a personal conflict because the irritation is eventually linked to the other’s personal characteristics and not just to specific episodes or academic disagreements. If the conflict is allowed to evolve, it may lead to behaviour and activity that is unfortunate in a working environment perspective.
Hard personal conflicts
In hard personal conflicts the conduct can be mutual and exchanged between equal parties but still harm individuals in different ways. Hard personal conflicts that result in single or systematic incidents of improper conduct are included in our understanding of the term harassment.
In the assessment of conduct and incidents a distinction is made between unfortunate and foreseeable.
Cases considered to be foreseeable may be unpleasant for some, but they do not imply a violation of the Working Environment Act and will not be followed up with measures.
The definition of a "foreseeable strain" - i.e. a foreseeable consequence of the working conditions - depends on several factors. The manager must make this assessment - if needed in cooperation with the employee. Having a conversation to clarify work roles, expectations, employee motivation and collegial, managerial and organisational relationships will often shed light on issues and provide a further focal point.
If what has happened is not considered foreseeable, the mental strain will be unfortunate. Cases that are considered unfortunate include violations of the Working Environment Act and local guidelines and must be followed up with necessary and appropriate measures / changes. In such cases the employer has a duty to act and the employee has a duty to tell and participate. This implies that the employer is obliged to map, risk assess and draw up an action plan with suggestions for measures and follow-up, see OsloMet's internal conflict management procedures.
The following are examples of unfortunate episodes or conduct:
- Unwanted sexual attention
- Academic exclusion in the form of improper bypassing or withholding of important information
- Wrongful accusations of poorly performed work tasks, denigration of professional skill, unjustifiable deductions of tasks and responsibilities
- Backbiting and rumour spreading
- Hurtful jokes and teasing
- Inappropriate indictment
- Verbal abuse