28 January 2014

Sexual harrassment in the workplace

Your manager has just told you he likes you and that if you reciprocate, your career will go well. He did not say so outright, and there's nothing on voicemail or in your email. You're not sure exactly what he means, or if you're reading the situation correctly, but you feel uncomfortable anyway. 

It feels like you're between a rock and a hard place. He decides whether you'll be promoted at the end of the year, but if you choose to bring this up to HR, and you are wrong, it could backfire badly. It could even backfire if you are right and HR chooses to side with the manager, who is popular with the CEO, very well-known in the industry, and believed to be extremely faithful to his wife. What can you do?

“CT”*, a Senior HR practitioner who has more than 20 years’ experience both in the private and public sector, said that it is challenging to prove sexual harassment.

"It is very difficult to be certain its not our over-active imagination," said CT, pointing out that what might be neutral behaviour to one person might feel like harrassment to another. "Unless the person has a habit or reputation of doing it, we should be really careful that we aren’t over-reacting. Such accusations can destroy someone's good name badly.

"We need to be certain that our egos aren’t getting in the way of truth. We also need to be certain our own behaviour is beyond scrutiny. That being said, we have a right to a safe environment. If we are certain beyond any doubt that something untoward is happening, we owe it to ourselves and our colleagues to report the matter discreetly to HR."

CT also weighed in on unethical practices in general, for example colleagues declaring personal expenditure as corporate expenditure, or employees giving preferential treatment to a supplier whose owners are related to them by marriage.

"If an activity is legally wrong and you have solid proof, you should bring it to someone’s attention. But only if you are certain; not by hearsay," she said.

*Not her real name

*CT is available for private consultations