Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Since sexual harassment is difficult to define, it is important to circulate a policy on what constitutes harassment at workplace.
While cases sexual harassment at the workplace coming into light nowadays have increased in numbers, it is alarming to note the apathy and the lack of awareness among employees around the issue of harassment at the workplace.
Agreed, sexual harassment is not really easy to define. For example, while complimenting a woman colleague “you look good” cannot be classified as a sexual comment but “you look hot” can be. The deciding factor will be the feeling of discomfort of the recipient of the comment. The goal is to watch out for actions that brush the line between ‘okay’ and ‘not okay’, so as to put a stop to them before they escalate.
With the use of social media, email and texting applications at workplaces, there has been a visible transformation in the language and style of communication.
People tend to believe that texting and emails are private forms of communication and, hence, intentionally or unintentionally slip in offensive jokes, pictures or sexual innuendoes in conversational fashion or forward sexually-explicit jokes. Another issue is that many people believe off-sites, conferences, office parties, or any such events outside of the workplace do not fall under the purview, which is a fallacy.
Awareness of what can be construed as sexual harassment is extremely crucial. The most effective manner of dealing with sexual advances, whether verbal or otherwise, is to educate, reinforce and communicate what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct at the workplace.
The objective is to ensure that the office remains a place where everyone has fair and equal opportunities for professional development and that situations of prevent harassment from occurring.
Hence, it is wise to be proactive rather than be reactive.
AEGON Religare Life Insurance, as an organisation, believes in fostering a fair, healthy and safe working environment that upholds dignity and self-respect of all its employees and provides equal treatment to all. Any kind of sexual harassment within or outside the company premises made by an employee against another employee or company representative is not only against the company policy, but is also considered a breach of individual right, a violation of ‘business conduct and ethics’ and leads to strict action against the said employee.
Some of the steps taken by the organisation for monitoring and redressal of sexual harassment at workplace are:
a) Ensure that all employees know what sexual harassment is and that the company has zero-tolerance towards the same. For example, in our organisation, we have a carefully drafted policy that every employee and new hire must read, understand and digitally sign-off.
b) Regular communication to bring awareness and promote the policy at all levels within the organisation. Ensure the policy is easily accessible on the organisation’s intranet.
c) Have a defined procedure in place for employees to express their concerns confidentially, and ensure it is followed in case the employee is subjected to sexual harassment.
d) All measures are taken to address the grievance with a view to resolving it expeditiously and are looked at seriously, formally investigated, and action taken accordingly.
e) Ensure that inappropriate use of Internet and e-mail is not tolerated.
f) Activities or relationships of a sexual nature, whether or not consensual, are considered inappropriate in the work place environment and any violation, thereof, is subjected to strict disciplinary action.
Ensuring that these steps are taken will not only help an organisation prevent sexual harassment at work but also make the office an employee-friendly place to work in.
(The author is the Head (Talent) at AEGON Religare Life Insurance.)
(This article was published on January 16, 2014)