Dealing with Allegations of a Hostile Work Environment – How to Minimise your Risk?

LR logo_spot 01We were delighted to partner with Lander & Rogers to facilitate an educational event around the subject of how to deal with allegations of a hostile work environment. The main focus of the discussion centred on:
• managing a hostile workplace culture and environment;
• disciplining employees who may be participating in, or condoning a hostile workplace culture and environment;
• dealing with inappropriate comments, innuendo, language and jokes in the workplace;
• managing complaints of sexual harassment; and
• addressing cultural norms which are not consistent with your organisation’s Code of Conduct or overall values.

The round table event was attended by a number of senior HR professionals and after an interesting legal overview on the subject of Workplace Relations from the Lander & Rogers’ Partners, guests were asked to study a hypothetical scenario of very bad behaviour in a work place, followed by a discussion of how to deal with the situation.  This created lively discussion and debate among attendees, with the legal team then explaining best practice procedures and examples of recent cases.

Attendees were invited to submit their workplace issues to Legal Partner Neil Napper prior to the event; affording guests the opportunity to debate their issue anonymously among the assembled group of peers and legal practitioners to learn best practice methods of dealing with situations.

One of the core issues of the case study was in regard to inappropriate behaviour from a small group of employees engaging in sexual banter and jokes, resulting in certain female employees feeling uncomfortable at work, and ultimately filing a formal complaint.

Delegates debated what steps should be taken to manage these employees to prevent any legal claims arising, and how early on HR should intervene. We discussed that HR leaders should practise prevention before cure, by maintaining regular awareness that the environment and culture is designed and cultivated by the employees themselves.

In the case study, one of the senior executives – a high performer crucial to the success of the organisation – was also the ring leader or key perpetrator of these behaviours, seemingly setting the example of what was acceptable. Those eager to impress or ‘fit in’ often blindly followed suit.

One of the major themes that all the delegates agreed on was the importance of having a CEO and other executive members lead by example through actively participating in training and compliance events. Further to this, it was brought up that although extreme cases can force HR to adapt policies and even take disciplinary action, the underlying culture is still difficult to overturn, particularly when it is deeply rooted.

In scenarios where this is the case, it may be necessary to take the brave step of shaking up the established status quo and even causing some short-term pain, whether through an overhaul of the executive team or resisting the temptation to be lenient with repeat offenders. Ultimately though, a clean slate can help to set the organisation up for long-term, sustainable success.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to everyone who took part for sharing their insights, making it such a valuable experience for us all.  Special thanks to the partners at Lander and Rogers for sharing their expertise in such an engaging and relevant way to the assembled HR leaders.

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