As director of Corporate Human Resources, Robert Scott had written the company’s corporate policy on harassment. Policy and Procedure Scott’s sexual harassment policy is open to interpretation by managers and employees. Scott should have allowed for measures to provide ongoing tracking of policy effectiveness, and requested an external audit of the document by legal counsel and/or specialists before introduction. He should have been more critical of his policy, and cited its weaknesses. Communication
Min’s failure to act on Lee’s initial complaint demonstrates that Scott’s employee education programme on sexual harassment was ineffective. As a senior manager, Scott must ensure that the policy receives ongoing communication and promotion among all staff. Culture Scott’s informal structure of dealing with sexual harassment did not allow employees to feel safe about talking to management if harassed. His practice of trying to resolve all conflicts before the weekend was a superficial solution. His policy did not promote a culture of openness. Credibility
Citing a fear of an unfair dismissal lawsuit, Scott wasn’t prepared to make an effective decision about Warren after the employee confessed to the sexually harassment accusations. Scott’s inability to understand his own company’s employee termination rights placed the organisation in jeopardy of being held legally responsible for sexual harassment. He should have sought additional information by consulting the company’s lawyers or the Anti-Discrimination Board before making a decision about Warren. ISSUE II: NICHOLAS MIN EVALUATION Nicholas Min managed Warren and Lee, and reported to Scott.
Understanding He was unprepared to address sexual harassment complaints. He should have assured confidentiality, insisted that Lee was not at any risk in naming names, and taken timely action to address the complaint. Instead, he showed very little empathy toward the complainant. Communication It is assumed that Min did not provide ongoing promotion of the policy or discussed sexual harassment with his staff, to ensure they understood the company’s policy toward unacceptable behaviour and sexual harassment. Had he done this, Lee may have come forward sooner. Procedure
Min’s reaction toward Lee indicates he did not take the policy or complaints of sexual harassment seriously. Min failed to identify sexual harassment as unsuitable workplace behaviour and didn’t view the complaint seriously. Had he done so, he would have understood that it was causing Lee distress and affecting her performance, and responded. Responsibility Min exhibited avoidance behaviour by not recognising sexual harassment was occuring and he was unprepared and inexperienced to address it. Had he also noted his bias toward Warren, he may have been able to apply better judgment to address the conflict.
He also failed to monitor the situation as requested by Scott, and allowed the sexual harassment to continue unabated for five months until Warren’s dismissal3. ISSUE III: ADDRESSING SEXUAL HARASSMENT The Lee-Warren case proves the company’s current policy is irrelevant; it is too informal and unsuitable for the organisation’s needs. To create a harassment-free workplace, the company must have a policy that adopts zero tolerance toward sexual harassment. It must receive support at the highest levels of management, including the CEO. Management has the responsibility of promoting information about disciplinary action resulting from the case.
Employees need to understand the possible consequences of sexual harassment7 and, depending on the nature of the complaint and privacy of the individuals involved, cases should be brought out into the open to remove paranoia. Employees must be aware that immediate disciplinary action will be taken against anyone who victimizes or retaliates against a complainant. 8 The new policy must be promoted throughout the organisation through educational programmes including posters, displays of the policy on notice boards, awareness seminars, in-house publications and induction kits9.
Line managers must review the programme every quarter or six months, and present the results to senior management. The policy must receive regular six-month reviews by the human resource department and, if necessary, an external advisor to track its effectiveness. Managers must be audited to ensure that they are discussing sexual harassment with their staff at least once every six months, and that new employees receive the appropriate policy awareness education. Staff must also be interviewed to ensure they are receiving awareness education.
Clear guideless of documenting and recording complaints of sexual harassment must be outlined to employees. Finally, the company needs to undergo a cultural change that recognizes equality between men and women, and their rights. ISSUE IV: ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BOARD INVOLVEMENT Had the complaint been taken to the Anti-Discrimination Board in writing, it would have been reviewed according to the law. The board would have asked Lee’s permission to speak with the company about the complaint, and remind them not to treat the complainant badly as a result of the submission.
The company would be required to provide documentation of internal procedures for handling complaints of sexual harassment. This would determine whether the company was legally responsible for the complaint. They would be held responsible unless they can show that they took “reasonable steps” to present the discrimination from happening. 10 Acting impartially, the board would attempt to settle the dispute by conciliation11, helping both parties come to an agreement on how to privately resolve the problem. This could result in the company providing financial compensation to the complainant as part of the settlement.
If this approach is unsuccessful or deemed inappropriate, the complainant can apply to the Federal Magistrates Court or Federal Court of Australia for judicial review12.
Companies must take a serious and active role in creating a harassment-free workplace for employees. Well-structure policy and procedures must be adopted to address sexual harassment in the workplace. Management must understand that an effective sexual harassment plan provides competitive advantage by creating a safe and productive environment for employees, and the opportunity of retaining and hiring highly skilled workers.