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Mishandling sexual harassment: high-risk area for HR

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HC Online | 26 Mar 2012, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Sexual harassment complaints like the current Oracle case are a minefield for HR, and getting it wrong can have incendiary consequences. Here’s how to get it right.
  • Harriet Stacey | 26 Mar 2012, 02:54 PM Agree 0
    There are certainly some good points in this article, taking the mater seriously is very important for preventing future cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. One common error that can get organisations into difficulty is conducting a process that is directed by the complainant. This is fine if the conduct does not constitute a breach of OH&S legislation or the sex discrimination act but where the conduct complained of does breach legislation the organisation should conduct an independent investigation regardless of the views expressed by the complainant. Complainants often feel bad about the impact of their complaint and will minimise the serious with which they view the conduct - initially in any case. A failed grievance or 'insincere' apology can cause greater complaint later. If the organisation takes responsibility for it's actions there is less room for legal recourse later and in addition vexatious complaints are less likely to occur. At WiSE Workplace Investigations our training course help HR managers develop the investigation skills necessary to handle difficult cases of sexual harassment.
  • Bernie Althofer | 27 Mar 2012, 09:45 AM Agree 0
    Prevention and preventive actions seem to be underestimated in some organisations. In some cases, it appears that prevention extends as far as documenting and promoting a policy, coupled with training either online or face to face (time permitting).

    It seems to me that there are tremendous opportunities for organisations to extend their preventive and proactive work by practising for the day that they will have to respond to allegations. Individuals really don't like having to sit through a Court, Commission or Tribunal having to respond to a barrage of questions. Understanding the diverse range of questions that may arise should form the basis of 'mock' hearings. This provides individuals with an opportunity to learn how (or how not to respond).

    It is also important to address the workplace culture given that in some organisations there can be significant gaps between what the policy says and what really happens in the workplace. Getting workers at all levels to understand what sexual harassment looks like, the impact that it has on individuals and the organisation can help change the environment.

    In some cases it is important to work backwards. In other words, when you or organisation finds their name on the front page, backtracking can help identify where it all went wrong.

    I would also suggest that individuals and even organisations conduct self assessments to determine the frequency and severity of the behaviours, along with the actions taken. Establishing patterns of behaviours can be important. Self assessments also help individuals create a better understanding of what actually happened, who was present, and a raft of issues relating to their claim. It can also help reduce suggestions that a person has 'chopped and changed' their story. It can also help organisations identify improvement opportunities across a range of areas, not just in relation to the sexual harassment policy.

    I would also add that organisations should not underestimate the importance of assessments, reviews or audits to determine the success or otherwise of the implementation and understanding of their policy. After all, you want workers to be following the policy.

    I also recommend that organisations have systems or processes in place to maintain currency of knowledge regarding Court, Commission or Tribunal decisions regarding a range of counter productive behaviours including sexual harassment and unlawful discrimination. It is important that this currency of knowledge is then transferred to all workers so that they can meet current requirements.
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