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Workplace Stalking -- What Can You do?

Posted by Robert O'Neill on Apr 16, 2013 2:36:00 AM
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stalkingWorkplace stalkers usually have some psychological problem, ranging from personality disorders to serious mental illness. Australian researchers have identified some distinct types:

  • “Intimacy seekers” are in love with their victims and desire a relationship. They are often mentally ill and oblivious to their victims’ lack of interest. Some can become enraged at their would-be partner’s indifference to their interest.
  • “Resentful stalkers” typically harass bosses, co-workers, ex-spouses. They think anyone has failed them in some way. Threats and property damages are more frequent with this type, and they are capable of physical assault. They often suffer from severe paranoia and are quite resistant to treatment.
  • “Predatory stalkers” are the worst kind, may follow their victims for weeks or months in preparation for an assault, usually sexual. They tend to have histories of criminal sexual convictions and require treatment appropriate to sex offenders.

In setting an environment in your work organisation in which a victim will feel that she or he will receive your support, it is vital to establish a harassment policy, publish it and ensure that workers adhere to it (adapt the Work Safety Hub Bullying and Workplace Harassment Policy in your organisation).

Just having a policy is not enough – employees must have to feel that their story will be heard and believed. Stalkers have to know that their behaviour will never be tolerated, and that there will be negative repercussions, including performance assessment and possible police involvement.

Managers will feel they are in a difficult situation when both the stalker and the victim are their immediate subordinates or worse (from the point of view of their authority), if the stalker is someone who is senior to the manager.

Who should they believe? If the stalker is a senior employee, who should they bring the matter up with? How unpleasant such a situation could be, the manager has a duty to act - failure to investigate complaints or to take prompt action to deal with complaints is likely to be perceived as condoning or tolerating the behaviour.

The usual intermediate is the Human Resources Department. When a senior manager is involved, the human resources manager may find it necessary to bring in the chief executive or even the board. This is where having a clearly articulated grievance procedure is important – the matter should be handled within these parameters. Obviously, if a situation gets to this point, it is going to be stressful for everyone involved.

If managers within an organisation feel that the situation is outside their expertise then they should consider external assistance. If there is violence, the police should be called. If the situation has not escalated to this level, it may still be worthwhile to gain assistance from risk management consultants specialising in human interactions.

It is important to note that managers and supervisors must collaborate with each other, should they become aware of an employee that is stalked, even if no complaint has been made. Victims may be reluctant to complain for fear of being disbelieved or made a scapegoat. They may also feel that if the stalker is external to the workplace then the matter should also be resolved outside the workplace.

Unfortunately, stalkers are usually less than respectful of the boundaries of the workplace and often pursue their victim obsessively during working hours with phone calls, emails and so on. In such a situation, a manager obviously should assist the employee as much as possible, in some of the ways mentioned below.

What else can an organisation do?

If an employee is being stalked, then there are a number of steps which an organisation can implement to increase both the employee and her/his colleagues’ safety at work. These include:

• Screening phone calls and emails;

• Changing phone numbers and email addresses;

• Accompanying the victim to and from work if required;

• Circulating the stalker’s photograph to workmates;

• Tightening security in the workplace; and

• Assisting with collecting documentation to support a criminal prosecution.

Stalking is not a common occurrence but it will have a negative impact on your organisation, most especially to the emotional health safety of the worker, should it happen to one of your employees.

Your best defence is to be prepared, particularly if your organisation is in one of the higher risk categories. Have policies and procedures in place and ensure that your employees are given information and training on how to handle potential stalkers and security issues. Should an employee be the victim of stalking, don’t hesitate to call in appropriate experts but in the meantime protect your employees by the steps mentioned in this article.


Topics: Blog, Occupational Health and Wellbeing