Home Backtrack

Preventing Bystander Effect in the Workplace

Published:  July 20, 2018


Merriam-Webster defines a bystander as “one who is present but not taking part in a situation or event.”  Much of the standard run-of-the-mill harassment training conducted in the past have not been 100% effective as a prevention tool; the focus mainly being on avoiding legal liability. Litigation is costly to a business, and can drag on for years. It behooves an employer to be as proactive as possible in avoiding and preventing any form of harassment.

Bystander training is still a relatively new idea in the latest thinking of harassment prevention in the workplace. However, in a company, it may be the missing link between giving their employees knowledge and giving them the direct power to make a difference in their environment. An individual may bear witness to offensive behavior or language, but is hesitant to speak up for fear of retaliation. The burden may then be placed only on the victim to report the incident, and may not always reach a supervisor or higher-up in the company.  The main idea is to give an individual employee who may witness a questionable situation authorization to assess and address it while also protecting their rights as an employee.

This opens up a lot of questions, such as: What if you read a situation incorrectly? What do you say in that situation, and to whom? If you’re in a management position, what support should be given to employees who come forward as a witness? This is common, and there are a few things employers can do to help empower their employees and prevent harassment in the workplace:

Encourage Reporting        

Everyone in a company is responsible for reporting harassment. Effective training can reduce workplace harassment, while also encouraging individuals who may witness harassment to speak up without fear of retaliation. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has suggested rewarding managers who increase the amount of reported and documented harassment complaints, and potentially penalizing those who let complaints or concerns go unreported. This kind of incentive builds employee confidence and gives those who step forward some support. Read the entire report here.

Train Everyone to Speak Up and Take Action.        

Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to all levels of employees. Even the most effective training will not reach the ultimate goal in one day. Creating a secure, safe, and harassment-free environment takes time to build. Employees must be given some consistent comfort and motivation to watch over their peers as well as protection from retaliation when reporting is required. Individuals as part of a company should be trained and given guidance on what to say and do in a difficult situation. There is no one right answer, but training your employees and providing suggestions on how to act should a harassment situation arise will help prevent further incidents.   

If you would like more information on scheduling a harassment training session within a business, have any questions regarding harassment training, or any other aspect of labor and employment law, please contact the attorneys at Royal, P.C.