HR Professionals and The Role They Play In Dealing With Sexual Harassment

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Written by Benjamin Lee for iqDynamics

2018 was a landmark year with victims of sexual harassment courageously speaking out against their abusers. From Uber to Hollywood, the #MeToo movement has triggered a change amongst employers and employees everywhere.

However, sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior is still very much a problem in the workplace. In this article, we take a look at how HR professionals can combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

 

HR must act without fear or favor

 

The culture of covering up is the number one reason why perpetrators of sexual harassment often go unpunished. From line managers worried about how a sexual harassment case would impact his/her KPI to members of the senior management team anxious to avoid any bad press, many organizations often choose to cover up sexual harassment allegations.

 

From victims being pressured by their own superiors to drop the case to perpetrators being let off with a “stern warning”, such behavior only perpetuates this culture and in fact empowers aggressors while leaving victims feeling exposed and vulnerable. In many cases, the victim often ended up being punished for daring to speak out against his/her aggressor. Whereas in other cases, the victim was pressured into silence, citing the need to remain “supportive” towards his/her colleagues.

 

Instead, HR professionals need to take steps to ensure that all allegations of abuse and harassment are dealt with firmly without fear or favor. In this situation, we can see how an organization’s HR director pulled no stops in ensuring that a perpetrator was terminated from his position when it was determined that he was abusive and repeatedly made lewd remarks towards his colleagues.

 

After doing so, the performance of other employees improved dramatically after the perpetrator had been terminated from the organization. This showcases why HR professionals and managers alike should not have any qualms in terminating employees who are found guilty of abuse or harassment,

 

By removing potentially harmful elements from the organization, HR professionals can ensure that their staff members are able to work without having to constantly watch their backs.

 

Ensure absolute confidentiality

 

HR Professionals have a duty to uphold and protect the confidence placed in them by their employees. This includes safeguarding any sensitive information that they have been entrusted with.

 

Rather unfortunately, a majority of sexual harassment cases often go uninvestigated due to interference from other parties looking to hinder or disrupt any investigations. Commonly, in the case where a high-performing employee or member of senior management is being investigated, HR professionals can find themselves falling under the “influence” of other parties.

 

An unfortunate example of this can be seen in the case of Astrid Avandano; an engineer with Uber who successfully sued the company for sexual harassment. Despite numerous complaints made by Ms Avandano to Uber’s HR department, her claims remained uninvestigated and even resulted in her being accused of “throwing her superiors under the bus”.

 

This failure clearly illustrates the inability of Uber’s HR department to protect their employee from sexual harassment. Along with this, it can also be seen how the HR department was acting in an impartial manner which resulted in confidential information being leaked out to other parties.

 

Nip the problem in the bud

 

Oftentimes, crises are the sum of a total number of smaller mistakes made along the lines. The same can be said for cases related to sexual harassment. Oftentimes, micro behaviors such as inappropriate touching or crude remarks are passed off as mere office banter.

 

This is especially true when junior members of staff are dealing with more senior members of the organization. Over time, as such behavior becomes the norm, the lines between acceptable and non-acceptable behavior become blurred which can lead to inappropriate behavior.

 

By taking a more active role in preventing workplace sexual harassment, HR professionals can significantly reduce such incidences through education and awareness. For example, developing guidelines which explicitly state appropriate workplace behavior is one way of curbing sexual harassment.

 

Another would be by providing employees with a channel to anonymously contact the HR department to report any incidences. Also, all reports should be treated seriously and investigated thoroughly without fear or favor. Not only does this encourage employees to speak up, but it also sends a clear message to potential abusers in the workplace.

 

Employees have a right to work in a safe and secure environment, free from intimidation and harassment. By taking the right steps towards protecting your employees, you can ensure your business remains competitive in the years to come.

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At iqDynamics, we recognize the importance of having a safe and free work environment. This is why our HRM system comes with a suite of tools to help you protect your employees. Screen and assess the suitability of potential candidates with our talent management module or provide employees with the means to speak up safely with our system’s feedback function.

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