Zero tolerance to harassment
A researcher may face harassment during their career. Harassment can generally be divided into two categories:
- harrassment in the workplace and work-related harassment, and
- harassment related to private life
Harassment may occur in different situations. The list below includes the most common situations.
Harassment in the workplace may occur in several different relations; employee-employee, employer’s representative-employee, student-employee, work-related third party-employee.
Harassment in private life
Harassment through different communication channels, such as email, phone and social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.).
Harassment in working life
What is considered harassment and inappropriate behavior or inappropriate treatment
Inappropriate behavior or treatment is treatment that goes against common decency and treatment that is inappropriate for and disrupts work. Inappropriate treatment includes hurtful words, actions and attitudes.
Inappropriate behavior and treatment may also involve gender-based harassment. Gender-based harassment may be physical or verbal. Innuendos, gestures and looks, nude images and harsh language may be just as hurtful as a physical slap.
Furthermore, continuously and baselessly critiquing someone’s performance at work, smearing a person’s reputation, inappropriate name-calling or isolating someone from a work community are considered inappropriate treatment.
Removing or not giving someone their assigned tasks or benefits are also considered inappropriate treatment.
Continuous and regular harassment and inappropriate treatment may harm or endanger the subject’s health. Harassment may cause psychosomatic symptoms, illnesses and anxiety. The longer the harassment continues, the more difficult to address it becomes.
Prolonged harassment may cause the subject to have difficulties at work and exhaust their physical and mental resources. The subject of the harassment may also have to take prolonged sick leave or be forced into early retirement. Colleagues may fear that they will become involved in the conflict, which causes the subject’s social network to crumble.
Sexual and gender-based harassment
Gender-based harassment refers to unwanted attention that is related to gender. This includes demeaning or condescending talk related to someone’s gender, gender-based bullying and acts that make one feel embarrassed, fearful, hurt and angry.
Some examples of sexual harassment include innuendos, sexually-charged jokes, as well as talk and questions related to someone’s body, way of dressing or private life. Furthermore, sexually suggestive language, demands, physical contact, rape and attempted rape are considered sexual harassment.
Phones and the Internet can also be used for harassment. Gender-based attention becomes harassment when it continues even after the subject has expressed that the attention is unpleasant.
What is not inappropriate treatment?
Despite the examples mentioned above, not all treatment can be considered bullying or harassment under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, even if the treatment feels unpleasant.
Some situations that are not considered inappropriate treatment include
- conflicts that arise from work-related decisions or interpretations
- reasonable disciplinary actions that are taken when work or task-related problems are discussed with members of the work community
- work ability examinations that take place after the employer has talked with the employee about their apparent difficulties at work.
When people talk about the side effects of social media, they often exclusively talk about hate speech. However, discussions about online harassment should at least differentiate between trolling, hate speech and abuse. Harassment on social media can be seen in hate speech or bullying, for example. Most social media users will never experience severe harassment, but they may come across endlessly repeating conversations or trolls who cause confusion for fun.
That said, disagreeing with an opinion is not harassment. A heated debate becomes harassment when there is no genuine desire to connect or discuss something.
Trolling has existed for almost as long as the Internet. Trolling is not necessarily malicious: the aim is often to provoke as strong a reaction as possible. A provoking, tongue-in-cheek forum post that gives rise to dozens of angry replies is a simple example of traditional trolling. Trolling may also involve organised prank campaigns, such as campaigns that manipulate audience voting.
Trolls may teach people to recognise and avoid open provocation: recognising a skilled troll requires good media literacy and critique skills. Nowadays, the term trolling may also be related to information warfare. In this context, trolling has larger goals that go beyond provoking Internet denizens.
Hate speech is abusive speech that targets a person or a group and focuses on their gender, ethnicity, religion, race, disability, sexual orientation or other comparable aspects. Freedom of speech is often used to defend hate speech.
Hate speech looks for someone to blame and provokes aggression towards certain groups. It does not tackle structures. Rather, it places the blame on people or groups and is deliberate and continuous. An isolated outburst is not hate speech; hate speech and angry speech are two different things.
Hate speech is not mentioned in Finnish laws, but it can, for example, be investigated and condemned as a hate crime. There are also some Finnish cases where acts of online hate speech have led to sentencings for ethnic agitation.
Social media harassment may also be observed as different forms of bullying and abuse. These include spreading personal information and continuous slander, which may even fulfil the conditions for criminal activity.
Online harassment may also be sexual. Examples of online sexual harassment include sexually-charged private messages and “clever” innuendos.
Bullying and abuse are more personal than trolling and hate speech in a larger context, as they often purposely attack one’s personality. Bullying and abusive messages are not always truthful – their only aim is to hurt someone.
Sometimes bullying and harassment are not directly visible to the subject. Instead, they may be seen in forum discussions or take the form of “parody accounts”. There are also Finnish cases where hate and bullying campaigns on forums have had consequences outside the Internet.
Harassment related to one´s work and position in private life
Sometimes work-related harassment can spread to private life through channels like social media, and you may not know what is causing it. Researchers are often active members of society and participate in social dialogue as researchers on their free time as well.
It is important to differentiate between bullying, heated discussion and differing scientific opinions, even though it may be difficult.
If harassment on social media or in private life is clearly related to one’s work or position at a university, it is the employer’s responsibility to address the situation according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
How to act when you face harrasment in working life
Remember that the employer is obligated to address harassment that happens at or is related to work
1 Take immediate action
Do not just wait for the situation to pass. The sooner harassment is addressed, the fewer insults and offense can occur.
2 Tell the bully to stop
Tell the bully that their behavior is unacceptable.
If you find it difficult to speak to the bully alone, ask someone to support you (e.g. your employees’ work safety representative or a shop steward).
3 Contact a supervisor
If the bully is your immediate supervisor, contact their supervisor.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires the employer to take action after they have been informed of inappropriate behavior or harassment that causes harm to or endangers an employee.
4 Document everything
Collect evidence. When the situation is addressed at a meeting, ask for someone to keep an official record of it.
5 Seek help from occupational health services or employees’ work safety representative
Occupational health services can provide individual support and help when the situation is discussed in the work community.
Nobody should put up with harassment.
Legislation on your side: Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 8, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 28, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 25, the Centre for Occupational Safety
How to act if you experience harassment on social media or harassment related to private life
1 Tell the harasser that their attention is unwanted and distressing
Remember that you are not obligated to answer all inquiries as a researcher, even if someone demands a response from you.
2 You always have the right to stop communicating if a conversation or phone call becomes inappropriate
3 Save all inappropriate messages
Collect evidence. When the situation is addressed at a meeting, ask for someone to keep an official record of it.
4 Contact your employees’ work safety representative or shop steward in all work-related matters
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires the employer to ensure that the employee’s ability to work is not threatened by things like harassment.
5 Contact occupational health services
Occupational health services provide occupational health psychologist services that can assist in treating problems such as anxiety.
6 Contact the work safety representative, shop steward, the trade union
Talk about what has happened. You are not alone!
7 Contact the police if the harassment is serious and /or continues for an extended period of time
The trade union’s lawyers can help to sort out your case and to decide whether the case fulfils a criteria for criminal activity.
Legislation related to different harassment situations
Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 8
employers’ general duty to exercise care
Employers shall continuously monitor the working environment, the state of the working community and the safety of the work practices. Employers shall also monitor the impact of the measures put into practice on safety and health at work.
Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 28
harassment – If harassment or other inappropriate treatment of an employee occurs at work and causes hazards or risks to the employee’s health, the employer, after becoming aware of the matter, shall by available means take measures for remedying this situation.
Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 25
avoiding and reducing workloads – If it is noticed that an employee while at work is exposed to workloads in a manner which endangers his or her health, the employer, after becoming aware of the matter, shall by available means take measures to analyse the workload factors and to avoid or reduce the risk.
Act on Equality between Women and Men, Section 7
Sexual harassment, gender-based harassment and any order or instruction to engage in discrimination based on gender shall be deemed to constitute discrimination under this Act.
In this Act, sexual harassment means verbal, non-verbal or physical unwanted conduct of a sexual nature by which a person’s psychological or physical integrity is violated intentionally or factually, in particular by creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive atmosphere.
In this Act, gender-based harassment means unwanted conduct that is not of a sexual nature but which is related to the gender of a person, their gender identity or gender expression, and by which the person’s psychological or physical integrity is intentionally or factually violated and an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive atmosphere is created.
Criminal Code of Finland, Chapter 24
Section 1(a) (13.12.2013/879) Harassing communications
A person who, with intent to disturb, repeatedly sends messages or calls another so that the act is conducive to causing said other person considerable disturbance or harm, shall be sentenced for harassing communications to a fine or to imprisonment for at most six months.
Dissemination of information violating personal privacy
Section 8 (13.12.2013/879) Dissemination of information violating personal privacy. A person who unlawfully
(1) through the use of the mass media, or
(2) otherwise by making available to many persons
disseminates information, an insinuation or an image of the private life of another person, so that the act is conducive to causing that person damage or suffering, or subjecting that person to contempt, shall be sentenced for dissemination of information violating personal privacy to a fine.
The spreading of information, an insinuation or an image of the private life of a person in politics, business, public office or public position, or in a comparable position, does not constitute dissemination of information violating personal privacy, if it may affect the evaluation of that person’s activities in the position in question and if it is necessary for purposes of dealing with a matter of importance to society.
Presentation of an expression in the consideration of a matter of general importance shall also not be considered dissemination of information violating personal privacy if its presentation, taking into consideration its contents, the rights of others and the other circumstances, does not clearly exceed what can be deemed acceptable.
Section 8(a) (13.12.2013/897) Aggravated dissemination of information violating personal privacy
If the dissemination of information violating personal privacy causes considerable suffering or particularly extensive damage and the offence is aggravated also when assessed as a whole, the offender shall be sentenced for aggravated dissemination of information violating personal privacy to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years.
Section 9 (13.12.2013/879) Defamation
A person who (1) spreads false information or a false insinuation of another person so that the act is conducive to causing damage or suffering to that person, or subjecting that person to contempt, or
(2) disparages another in a manner other than referred to in paragraph (1)
shall be sentenced for defamation to a fine. Also a person who spreads false information or a false insinuation about a deceased person, so that the act is conducive to causing suffering to a person to whom the deceased was particularly close, shall be sentenced for defamation.
Criticism that is directed at a person’s activities in politics, business, public office, public position, science, art or in comparable public activity and that does not obviously exceed the limits of propriety does not constitute defamation referred to in subsection 1(2).
Presentation of an expression in the consideration of a matter of general importance shall also not be considered defamation if its presentation, taking into consideration its contents, the rights of others and the other circumstances, does not clearly exceed what can be deemed acceptable.
Section 10 (13.12.2013/879) Aggravated defamation
If, in the defamation referred to in section 9(1), considerable suffering or particularly significant damage is caused and the defamation is aggravated also when assessed as a whole, the offender shall be sentenced for aggravated defamation to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years.
Zero tolerance for harassment.
Sources: The Centre for Occupational Safety, Viestintä Piritta, Finlex