There has in recent weeks been a huge amount reported and written about allegations of harassment (sexual and otherwise), bullying and intimidation against employees – often, but not always, women – by people in more senior positions. Whilst the focus of these allegations, both here in Australia and overseas, has been on the entertainment industry, there have been plenty of "mainstream" companies facing issues of their own.
This is not just a "big business" problem – harassment, bullying and intimidation are universal issues that have the same potential to occur in a small business as a large corporation (for example, some of the recent reports of migrant and other worker exploitation, and threats of job loss or deportation if they were to speak up have involved small and franchised businesses).
The damage these claims can cause is enormous – from reputational damage to monetary penalties (and, in extreme cases, criminal charges), not to mention the potential psychological damage caused to the employees involved. There are however some key things that ALL businesses can do to ensure that they minimise their risk and their exposure to these claims and their aftermath.
- Make sure that you have written policies and procedures in place covering core items like handling grievances, misconduct, harassment and bullying, and use of the internet and social media. The policies should cover staff, contractors, sub-contractors, agents, consultants and temporary staff. Ensure staff and others are educated on these policies and know what to do if an issue arises.
- Adopt a "zero tolerance" policy to inappropriate behaviour. Make sure everyone knows that this is your approach, and that they know what the consequences of breaching this are.
- If and when issues arise, make sure that your managers / supervisors know how to deal with them. Ensure confidentiality is maintained, and that matters are dealt with quickly and effectively.
- Have support mechanisms in place to help staff who may be feeling uneasy or uncomfortable. This might be access to a counselling service, a medical practitioner or an independent third party.
We can help protect your business by, for example, developing and implementing relevant policies or investigating harassment, bullying and other complaints if required. Contact us for more information and/or to discuss your needs.