This year, the United Nations (UN) has dedicated International Day of Education – January 24 – to countering hate speech.
Hate speech can occur in any location, including the workplace. According to the UN, hate speech is “rising around the world”, and has been amplified online and having real world consequences.
Yet despite its prevalence, there are actions that individuals and organisations – including employers – can take to counter the spread of hate in our community and create safer spaces for everyone to be part of.
To better understand the implications of hate speech and how employers can address it in the workplace to create an environment that is more understanding, inclusive, and diverse, Jobsbank interviewed Deakin University Associate Professor Matteo Vergani.
Forms of hate
According to Matteo, hate can take different forms, from hate speech to discrimination, microaggressions and violent extremism.
The UN says hate speech is “a denial of the values of tolerance, inclusion, diversity and the very essence of human rights norms and principles”.
Matteo, whose research focuses on the relationship between different types of hate behaviours, said polarisation is increasing around the world – and with it, the potential for hate to occur, both at a criminal and non-criminal level.
To aid the fight, he and several colleagues from other universities around the world have set up a website called Tackling Hate, which features resources aimed at developing a culture to address hate through a ‘whole of society’ approach.
“The thinking was to give [an] evidence base because research in this area is evolving very fast. I wanted to create a one-stop-shop where students, researchers, [and] policymakers working in this area can go and look at the main developments in the field,” Matteo explained.
Tackling hate in the workplace
The whole of society approach is crucial to tackling forms of hate and extremism, he added.
“It’s very important because the government can only regulate criminal behaviours, which are the tip of the iceberg. But the basis of the iceberg is non-criminal, and we don’t want the government to be involved in regulating non-criminal behaviours. In that case, for challenging non-criminal behaviours, you need a strong civil society, which includes families, communities, and community organisations.”
To this end, Tackling Hate aims to bring members of civil society “into the conversation”; many of its resources are based on interviews with civil society organisations and activists, highlighting the role that all parts of society can play in tackling hate.
This includes workplaces, which are also part of the fight against hateful behaviours, especially when it comes to developing an anti-hate culture.
While the actions that individual workplaces can take are contextual and depend on the clients, employees and the space the workplace occupies, Matteo said at their core, the actions focus on the same thing: “hatred is a human problem, so we need people to be aware and be able to intervene”.
He said some practical steps that workplaces can take include:
- Raising awareness about the types of hate that can take place within a workplace, such as the difference between hate incidents (which are below the criminal threshold) and hate crimes (which are above the criminal threshold).
- Developing policies to address these occurrences, like other workplace policies like occupational health and safety.
Matteo said such policies already exist in many workplace settings – for example, some workplaces will have training available for staff to identify and stamp out sexual harassment. These sorts of policies should be replicated and adapted to other forms of hate “as much as we can”, he said.
“For workplaces, it’s really important to have a very specific and tailored policy. Every workplace is very different and the risks are different – someone working in a shopping centre has a very different type of risk compared to someone who works in a small business with no contact with the public outside.”
These policies would also need to consider the people who might be covered, from customers to contractors and employees, to ensure that staff take the appropriate actions when they witness a hateful incident or action.
How is Australia doing otherwise?
Matteo said Australia’s track record on addressing hateful behaviours and extremism was, from a regulatory perspective, deficient. He said Australia has no federal definition of what a hate crime is, and while some states have legislation in the area, it may not address all communities.
Australia is also stumbling when it comes to tracking hate crimes; without a federal definition, there is no data collection of how many hate crimes occur in the country.
“It’s basically impossible to understand if hate crimes are increasing or decreasing in Australia. We just don’t know – no one knows, because that [information] is not collected,” Matteo said.
Nevertheless, at a civil society level, Australians are coming together to tackle the scourge of hate, through grassroots action, and here Matteo says the country is “working pretty well” at least relative to other comparable democracies.
For workplaces, governments also provide some resources, many designed to address specific types of hate like sexual harassment and racism.
Obligations for employers
Employers do have a legal obligation to create fair workplaces, and this includes through addressing things like discrimination and harassment.
In Victoria, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has guidance for employers as to their obligations in this regard.
But ultimately, Matteo said he believes Australia needs a “top-down regulative effort to level up and bring all types of hate to the same… level of awareness and regulation”.