Guest Post from Diana, currently working with Work Examiner and focused on employing digital technology in business. She has a degree in enterprise management, and loves to explore future-proof apps helping small and large companies grow.  

Just a few days ago Irish online resources broke the news about an Asian woman awarded €8,000 for workplace harassment. In 2017, she worked for an unnamed company in Ireland and became subjected to harassment on the part of her senior colleague. Though the company’s managers had tried to settle the case informally by asking the offender to apologise, the woman had to leave the job because of an unfriendly attitude from the team after the apology. The Workplace Relations Commission ordered the company to pay the award, finding it responsible for the discriminatory treatment.

Actually, this is just one of the recent cases in Ireland, where employers were involved in rather costly affairs related to workplace harassment. With the Weinstein scandal driving the trend, any kind of discrimination and obscenity at work tends to come at a high cost for employers all across the world. Experts at Work Examiner, the developer of one of the leading employee monitoring products on the market, share their view on the case and on how monitoring employees’ digital activity can help to prevent certain claims.

Steps to Prevent Harassment at Work

In the case described, along with the award to be paid, the Workplace Relations Commission gave the company 3 months to adopt a policy on harassment, thus giving a kind of clue to other employers.

1. Establish Your Dignity at Work Policy

Practicing lawyers recommend employers to start from adopting policies covering harassment, sexual harassment and bullying. Though the adoption is not statutory required, it is a kind of a must for today’s employers because of their responsibilities and obligations under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 and other acts and codes addressing the issue. Your policy should clearly explain what kind of behavior is prohibited, as well as place an authority or a person in charge of preventing workplace harassment and addressing related complaints.

In the case described, the colleague, who harassed the woman, is reported to be surprised at her complaints – this proves that some people really don’t understand where the line between jokes and improprieties is, so your policy has to make it clear. Besides, it seems that the victim had no idea how the company’s policy works, which leads us to the next step.

2. Make It Work

As an employer, you won’t be able to avoid legal liability for your employees’ improprieties, if you just draft the policy without taking any steps to implement it. You should bring it to the notice of your staff members through newsletters, handbooks, general meetings or any other available communication channels. Special training is very advisable aimed at both persons in charge and your entire staff. An open discussion of these sensitive issues educates employees, who may be involved in harassing their colleagues, while creating a safe and comfortable environment for your staff members to report on unwelcome conduct. Also, you need to regularly review the policy to keep it up to date and in compliance with current laws.

In our case, the company reported that it had its managers trained and even could offer an Employee Assistance Programme to the victim, but somehow all these means didn’t work. The victim of harassment didn’t know where to seek help, and the managers wouldn’t even learn about the problem, if one of them didn’t spot the woman crying one day. What does this lead us to?

3. Monitor Your Workplace Environment

On the one hand, it is necessary to monitor your employees’ workplace behavior and to keep track of handling complaints in order to make sure that your policy works fine or to reveal those problems that make it less effective. However, it is quite unclear how an employer can implement the monitoring. Should you regularly invite your employees to have nice little talks about harassment? Should you conduct a kind of anonymous surveys? And how could anyone learn about the situation described above and settle it early on?

But the story started with a couple of unwelcome Snapchats of the affected woman taken by the senior colleague and then sent to his friends, who, in turn, answered with offensive comments. What if these Snapchats were captured by those trained managers or the company’s HR department (which actually learned about the situation only upon the complainant’s dismissal)? Could this prevent subsequent events, had they reacted immediately? Obviously, the offender’s digital behavior would give them a clue.

The experts at Work Examiner do believe that in this digital world we live monitoring employees’ computer and online activity can help employers stay aware of their workplace environment and timely respond to any signs of harassment. However, employers have to use these tracking tools in accordance with legislation and their policy on employees’ personal data protection – otherwise, they risk being sued for breach of confidentiality

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