Article 9(b)–(c) of Convention No. 190 acknowledges that violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment, and its associated psychosocial risks, are not only an issue of discrimination and inequity, but also a risk of impaired health.
Each Member shall adopt laws and regulations requiring employers to take appropriate steps commensurate with their degree of control to prevent violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment, and in particular, so far as is reasonably practicable, to: …
b. take into account violence and harassment and associated psychosocial risks in the management of occupational safety and health;
c. identify hazards and assess the risks of violence and harassment, with the participation of workers and their representatives, and take measures to prevent and control them;
Over the past decades, a number of ILO OSH instruments have been set out to protect workers’ safety and health. These standards include the:
- Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 155) and Recommendation (No. 164), 1981;
- Protocol of 2002 to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981;
- Occupational Health Services Convention (No. 161) and Recommendation (No. 171), 1985;
- List of Occupational Diseases Recommendation, 2002 (No. 194); and
- Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 187) and Recommendation (No. 197), 2006.
Even if these instruments do not specifically address violence and harassment, such conduct has always been considered as an obvious health risk (ILO 2020d). Convention No. 190 and Recommendation No. 206 now make it clear that violence and harassment – including gender-based violence and harassment should be addressed through OSH management. Article 12 of Convention No. 190 specifies that “extending or adapting existing occupational safety and health measures to cover violence and harassment and developing specific measures where necessary” is one of the methods of applying the provisions of the Convention. 29 In a number of countries, OSH legislation already addresses employers’ duty to assess the various safety and health risks associated with their workplace in order to identify, reduce, and whenever possible, prevent them. Although management is responsible for controlling risks, workers have a critical role to play in helping to identify and assess workplace hazards.
Many factors contribute to violence and harassment at work, including psychosocial hazards and occupational stress (ILO 2020h). This being the case, Paragraph 8 of Recommendation No. 206 recommends:
The workplace risk assessment … should take into account factors that increase the likelihood of violence and harassment, including psychosocial hazards and risks. Particular attention should be paid hazards and risks that:
- arise from working conditions and arrangements, work organization and human resource management, as appropriate;
- involve third parties such as clients, customers, service providers, users, patients and members of the public; and
- arise from discrimination, abuse of power relations, and gender, cultural and social norms that support violence and harassment. 30
Psychosocial risks can be defined as those aspects of work design, organization, and management, along with their social and environmental contexts, that have the potential to cause harm. Psychosocial risks that cause occupational stress can also increase the risk of violence and harassment at work. Although violence and harassment can be induced by a number of individual, social and organizational factors, research shows that, for instance, bullying is likely to prevail in stressful working environments where workers are exposed to high levels of interpersonal conflict and noxious leadership styles (Johan Hauge, Skogstad, and Einarsen 2007). Other studies also show a vicious circle of psychosocial risks leading to harassment, which then leads back to psychosocial risks (ILO 2020d). Psychosocial risks vary between sectors, workplaces, groups of workers and occupations. They may include third-party violence and harassment, as well as domestic violence, when relevant. Some of the key and interrelated psychosocial hazards that could lead to violence and harassment, or that are in and of themselves expressions of harassment, may include:
- job content and control;
- workload and work pace;
- working time;
- physical working environment;
- organizational culture and function;
- leadership style;
- interpersonal relationships at work; and
- “normalization” of violence and harassment (ILO 2020d).
Furthermore, discrimination, cultural and language differences, and other vulnerabilities usually interact and intersect with psychosocial risks, thus having an impact on violence and harassment in the world of work. For these reasons, Convention No. 190 and Recommendation No. 206 call for workplace risk assessment and management to take into account all of the factors that may increase the likelihood of violence and harassment.
After identifying all hazards and assessing the associated risks, the next step is to adopt appropriate measures to prevent or control such risks, in order to minimize their effects and to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
The identification of hazards and the assessment of risks of violence and harassment can also constitute a channel to address concerns that may be specific to persons with disabilities and other individuals or groups in vulnerable situations. Examples of measures to prevent and control risks may vary and depend upon the nature of the workplace and workforce, as well as on the specific sector where employers operate. These measures could include:
- establishing or updating facility access controls;
- installing security cameras;
- reviewing job descriptions to ensure that duties and responsibilities for workplace safety and security are defined clearly; and
- establishing response protocols in the event of workplace violence and harassment.
Box 21. Violence and harassment as a safety and health issue to be included under OSH regulations
Recently, an increasing number of countries have included specific reference to violence and harassment and its associated psychosocial risks in the management of OSH, including within the scope of workers’ compensation legislation.
Australia: A 2021 Guide published by Safe Work Australia characterizes sexual harassment as a workplace hazard, known to cause psychological and physical risks to health and safety (Australia 2021a). Employers are hence required to:
review workplace behaviour and workplace health and safety policies, as well as current workplace practices, to ensure that risks of workplace sexual harassment are identified and appropriately addressed, and that relevant due diligence/officer obligations extend to workplace sexual harassment;
ensure all workers are aware of and understand these policies and their rights and obligations in respect of sexual harassment;
given the prevalence of remote working, ensure that all “workplaces” are included in such reviews; and
ensure that internal reporting processes are capturing accurate and timely information about incidents.
Belgium: In 2014, the definition of violence and harassment at work provided for in OSH regulations has been amended to include psychosocial risks, including stress, burnout and interpersonal conflicts (Royal decree on prevention of psychosocial risks at work, 2014).
Canada: Section 8 (Identification of risk factors) of the 2020 Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations states:
An employer and the applicable partner must jointly identify the risk factors, internal and external to the workplace, that contribute to harassment and violence in the workplace, taking into account:
- the culture, conditions, activities and organizational structure of the work place;
- circumstances external to the work place, such as family violence, that could give rise to harassment and violence in the work place;
- any reports, records and data that are related to harassment and violence in the work place;
- the physical design of the work place; and
- the measures that are in place to protect psychological health and safety in the work place.
Denmark: The 2020 Executive order on psychosocial working environment specifically includes “offensive behaviour, including bullying and sexual harassment” (sects 22–24), which is defined as “a situation where one or more persons grossly or several times expose one or more other persons in the company to bullying, sexual harassment or other degrading behaviour in the workplace. The behaviour must be perceived as degrading by the person being subject to this behaviour.” The order also includes work-related violence, which is defined as “the situation where persons who are not employees or employers of the company, including citizens and customers, use violence against employees or employers” (sect. 25). In both cases, the regulations provide that “at all stages, work must be planned, organised and executed responsibly with due regard to health and safety in both short and long term” (sects 22, 26 and 31). They also provide that, in case of work-related violence outside of working hours, “the employer must ensure that employees are given appropriate guidance in how to deal with work-related violent episodes outside of working hours and their run-up” (sect. 32(1)). Moreover, “for use during guidance, the employer must ensure that guidelines are established for the appropriate managing of work-related violent episodes outside of working hours and their run-up” (sect. 32(2)). Finally, section 34 also provides, “The employer must ensure that any employee who has been subject to work-related violent event outside working hours is offered assistance in reporting the incident to the police.”
Grenada: The 2019 National OSH Policy provides, “All workers are to be covered by this policy, whether full-, part-time or otherwise employed, including interns, the differently abled, prisoners and sub contractors. Actions derived from this policy will be implemented in every workplace, whether in the public, private or informal sectors, and will be equitable, inclusive and without discrimination. Other persons who have cause to be within the workplace should also derive protection from this policy” (Grenada 2019, 10).
Mexico: The Mexican Official Standard NOM-035-STPS-2018 (NOM-035) aims to identify, analyse and prevent psychosocial risk factors in the workplace that can cause anxiety disorders, severe stress disorders or adjustment disorders, arising from the nature of the work that employees carry out, among other matters. The risk factors include, among others, “family relationships, negative leadership and relationships; and violence in the workplace”. Companies with 16 or more employees are also required to:
identify and analyse the risk factors;
carry out a psychological evaluation and medical examination of an employee who presents symptoms of any alteration to his or her health; and
create a programme to prevent and control risk factors, which may include a written prevention policy that promotes awareness and social support, and a means for employees to file complaints.
Peru, in July 2019, introduced legislation requiring employers to adopt anti- harassment policies and investigation procedures, provide anti-harassment training, and carry out annualsexualharassmentriskassessments. 31
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: In 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published some technical guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work. The guidance calls on employers to reflect on where the power imbalances fall within their organization and consider what they might do to address them. In addition, it recommends carrying out a sexual harassment risk assessment by using the existing risk management frameworks traditionally used in the workplace health and safety context. Assessments should identify risks, such as power imbalances, job insecurity, lone working, the presence of alcohol, customer-facing duties, particular events that raise tensions locally or nationally, lack of diversity in the workforce, and workers being placed on secondment, as well as control measures to minimize such risks (United Kingdom 2020).
29 This is of particular importance for workers in the informal economy. While OSH regulations contribute to protecting workers from OSH risks in the formal economy, those in the informal economy – which in some countries may represent the majority of workers – are often not covered by regulations related to working conditions or OSH due to the fact that the enterprises they work in may be unregulated or unregistered and may not be reached by labour inspection systems. The millions of workers operating in the informal economy may thus face increased vulnerability to violence and harassment, as well as difficulty seeking help or treatment following an incident, especially in the absence of social protection. There is, therefore, a need to continue to promote and strengthen OSH in informal workplaces through training, awareness and targeted programmes. See ILO 2018e.
30 In 2016, the Meeting of Experts on Violence against Women and Men in the World of Work also identified a number of factors that increased the risk of violence and harassment, such as: a) working in contact with the public; b) working with people in distress; c) working with objects of value; d) working in situations that are not or not properly covered or protected by labour law and social protection; e) working in resource-constrained settings (inadequately equipped facilities or insufficient staffing can lead to long waits and frustration); f) unsocial working hours (for instance, evening and night work); g) working alone or in relative isolation or in remote locations; h) working in intimate spaces and private homes; i) the power to deny services, which increases the risk of violence and harassment from third parties seeking those services; j) working in conflict zones, especially providing public and emergency services; and k) high rates of unemployment (ILO 2016b, para. 9).
31 Supreme Decree N° 014-2019-MIMP: The new regulations also require employers to adopt anti-harassment policies and investigation procedures, provide anti-harassment training, and carry out annual sexual harassment risk assessments.