This HR Manager candidly discusses the real sexual harassment cases she has seen, and tells us what we can learn from them.
The topic of sexual harassment in the workplace is in focus once again after TVF founder Arunabh Kumar and ScoopWhoop Co-Founder Suparn Pandey, were recently accused of the same.
In the recent past, other high profile cases such as those of Tarun Tejpal, former editor of Tehelka and Rajendra Pachauri, ex-TERI chief were also out in the media.
With people spending more time at work than at home, it is natural that social interaction will take place. However, inappropriate and deviant workplace behaviour in the guise of ‘being social’ often leads to cases of sexual harassment.
Why do such cases happen, despite most employees being at least partially aware that it would invite punishment and possible loss of reputation? While the aggrieved can be a male too, in our social set-up most often it is the female who is the complainant.
The following could be some of the reasons for sexual harassment at work, and for why women don’t report it more often:
Most cases are quite complex with several factors at play at the same time. Below are two real cases (with names changed to protect their identity).
Anita was facing issues with her non-performance at work. She was put on a performance improvement plan and was being mentored by the Head. A senior manager, Arun joined the organization. He was considered a high potential hire who was extremely polite, respectful and articulate. The Head delegated the responsibility of mentoring Anita to Arun.
During their discussions, Anita shared some personal information with Arun. Arun invited Anita for dinner one day to discuss her work progress. During dinner, he started drinking excessively and insisted that she stay late and he would drop her home. His behavior was flirtatious and he also held her hand trying to stop her from leaving.
Anita was alarmed and felt uncomfortable. She managed to leave and reported this matter at work. During the investigation, it was found that Arun was guilty. He had also lied about not consuming liquor while the evidence proved otherwise. Arun was asked to resign and leave. It was a stressful and time consuming case for the Sexual Harassment Committee. During the investigation, we realized that he had made another woman manager uncomfortable by asking her very personal questions.
In another case, during an international business travel, an employee was sexually harassed at a company event by the Head of the department, a fairly senior person in the organization. She left the event in tears and there were several witnesses to this. The Head of the department was fired after a lengthy investigation. As they were in the same team, he was asked to be on leave for some time and attend office only when asked.
There are several lessons learnt from such cases. It is responsibility of the management to ensure well-being of employees and to provide a safe and conducive work environment for everyone. There should be regular sessions conducted on acceptable behaviour at work and on the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Case studies should be shared to increase awareness.
There is a compelling need to prevent such behavior from an organization viewpoint. There is immense mental agony for the aggrieved employee, huge loss of productivity, hiring and training costs of replacing fired staff and possible loss of reputation on account of lawsuits.
Investing in prevention of harassment is not merely a good corporate or ethical practice but there is strong business sense in it too.
Top image via Pixabay
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