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How should a company respond to office harassment? | Oasis Troubleshoots

Written by Team Oasis Published on     4 mins read

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Employers should ensure the aggrieved parties’ concerns are addressed, experts say.

“Oasis Troubleshoots” is a new segment where we send your stories and questions to key opinion leaders (KOLs) for their perspectives on workplace issues or frustrations that you may be facing, such as low job satisfaction or even harassment at work.

If you wish to share your story or have a question for our KOLs, please submit it here.

Last month, we received a letter from a reader highlighting office harassment from an unconventional perspective. Here’s what she had to say and the responses from some of our KOLs:

Reader’s letter

Dear Oasis,

The issue I wish to highlight might be trivial compared to many difficulties that others face. However, it has bothered me for a long time, and I think that you can lead me to possible answers.

I am a young female professional working in the tech sector. A couple years ago, I was thrilled to begin my career as an intern at a tech unicorn. The #MeToo movement was gaining traction around that time, and people were starting to pay more attention to office harassment.

During my meeting with the HR representative of that company, I asked her what the company would do if harassment took place in its offices. She answered that the company strongly encourages the relevant parties to solve interpersonal issues by speaking with each other before involving superiors and the HR department.

To be honest, I was very disappointed by that answer. As someone who has experienced verbal harassment at the workplace and has heard many office harassment stories from others, I can tell that this company does not understand the gravity of the issue. Since that meeting with HR, I have stopped asking that question in all my job interviews as I have been afraid to receive disappointing answers that would ruin my good impressions of companies.

Yet, I am still unsure about the correct answer. From a company’s perspective, what would be a well-balanced, effective way to address office harassment when an employee files a report? Should HR be trained to harbor more sympathy toward employees and be less concerned about solely preserving the interests of the company?

Sincerely,

A Concerned Citizen

Cathy Song Novelli, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Hubilo

Dear Concerned Citizen,

You are right to have these feelings of disappointment and concern. Victims of harassment should not be expected to confront their harassers. In cases of an egregious offense, the experienced trauma could impact one’s ability to face the harasser. And in less egregious cases, there are still valid concerns about not being believed, retaliation, or worse.

That’s why HR is there. HR should be the trusted team that’s there to protect employees and defend those who feel wronged by coworkers. There should be an automatic response to record the instance and, based upon the victim’s desire, take action as is warranted. In some cases, victims don’t want the harasser fired or even warned, but might want the instance on record. In other cases, it must be addressed with the harasser with immediate action. Regardless of the action taken, HR should be by the victim’s side to hear, support, and take action on behalf of all employees.

You are right to expect more from companies. I’d go as far as to say that if their HR teams have no such point of view, they are not a company I’d ever want to work with or for—“unicorn” status or not.

Olga Zgurskaya, vice president of human resources at SAP Southeast Asia

Dear Concerned Citizen,

First of all, I would like to encourage you to always use the interview process as an opportunity to ask important questions. If a seemingly good impression towards a company is ruined after getting an answer, it might have been an impression only (which is good to lose before joining). Also, it would be helpful to get views from more interviewers. It makes complete sense to do our best to gain deep insights on what matters to ensure a positive and healthy experience in our future.

One key lesson that you have to remember is this—it’s a journey for every company. The first step is to take a zero-tolerance stance to any bullying or harassment at the workplace, giving no credit or special treatment to top performers, company veterans, or senior managers. Once such a stance is made, it has to be communicated to all employees, with clear guidelines about the channels to raise a claim when misbehaviors have been experienced or observed.

For example, SAP’s anti-discrimination policy and local guidelines provide clarity on the process and supporting evidence. Investigations are run by an independent global team, our HR Compliance Office.

While specific and transparent processes are in place, there are a few challenges that the employee may face.

Lengthy investigations: The process is confidential and may require weeks or even months to conclude, depending on the case’s complexity. The waiting period may seem like there is inaction from the parties involved, so staying in touch with the employee to update them about the status of the process is essential.

Confidentiality of consequence measures: The employee who raised the claim might not be privy to the disciplinary action taken. This holds true even when the result is termination.

Despite these challenges, if a company is clear and committed to be an inclusive workplace—free from harassment, bullying, retaliation, and other inappropriate behavior—and follows through the process without any privilege, it will undoubtedly ensure a healthy work atmosphere.

WRITTEN BY

Team Oasis

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