How To Deal With Inappropriate Behaviour In The Workplace

Nov 24, 2017 7 Min Read

We all go through our ups and downs at work and, even when things are tough, we look forward to better days when we can enjoy what we do and make the most out of the opportunities that come our way.

Sometimes though, things can take a turn for the worse, and a potentially serious situation may develop, either for ourselves or someone we work with.

Susan* joined Company A six months ago and enjoys working in her team. As an attractive and outgoing young woman, she is used to getting male attention, but her boss is becoming a little too friendly and she is starting to feel uncomfortable.

He makes comments about how well she dresses, how he looks forward to seeing her in the mornings and she often catches him looking at her as she’s working.

He sends her text messages in the evenings and on weekends, not all of which are work-related or appropriate. On one of the days, he invited her into his office to go over a presentation she had been preparing for.

He sat next to her to look at the slides on her laptop, with his arm across the back of her chair. Later that same day, he caught a lift down with her to the car park, walked her to her car, and suggested they go to a place nearby for teh tarik before she went home.

Doing the Right Thing

She managed to get away, but she woke up the next morning feeling sick at the thought of going into the office and seeing him again. What should she do?

As is often the case, Susan’s predicament has not gone unobserved. Her colleague, Karen*, has seen how their boss behaves towards young women, and is increasingly concerned for Susan.

Karen had to work hard to get the job that she has, she has young children settled at an affordable childcare centre near the office, and the routine is working well.

However, she can see that Susan is in trouble and would like to do something to help. What should she do?

Doing the right thing is rarely easy. Most of us prefer to keep our heads down, look the other way and convince ourselves that the thing that’s bothering us is not our problem.

However, something most of us aspire to do is to be people of integrity. Integrity means wholeness – when your values, words and behaviour are all synchronised.

If you believe in justice, truth and equality – and that people should be treated well regardless of their social position, race or gender – then protecting those who are in a vulnerable position should be a natural expression of your values.

So, What is Next?

Referring to the earlier example, it is good that Karen is concerned about

Susan’s situation, and she should do all she can to help her; however, she should think it through carefully before taking action.

Equally, Susan needs to be wise in how she deals with this to ensure that the matter is handled properly and she is not victimised as a result of raising the issue.

Should Karen decide to make a bold move, most of the aforementioned points would apply.

However, it might be a good idea for her to gently raise the question with Susan, preferably outside of working hours and away from the office.

Karen could prove to be an ally for Susan, a witness who can verify Susan’s account if the company does an investigation, and Susan will almost certainly welcome someone to share her concerns with, talk it through and provide support if she does decide to make a report.

In Susan’s case, after much thought and a discussion with Karen after work one evening, she decided to make a report.

She kept a careful note of what her boss was doing, including setting up her smartphone to record his actions in video when he came by her desk at one point.

Less than a week after she made the report, her boss was suspended and soon after, was ejected from the company. Susan went on to do very well in her job, and she and Karen remained firm friends.

Parting Thoughts

Integrity is what holds our society together. It is that willingness to take a stand against bad behaviour that brings change for the better, both for ourselves and those around us.

An 18th century philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said: “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”

It’s when we all play our part that things improve; so let’s take that step and make our workplace the safe and comfortable place it can and should be.

*The names mentioned in the article are fictitious.

What Can You Do?

In Susan’s case, she might consider making a personal appointment to see a human resources (HR) representative, making it clear that it is a confidential matter to be discussed in private.

If this option is not practical or available, using the company’s whistleblowing or other similar reporting line might be a good option to consider.
In either case, when making your report, here are some matters to think about:

  • Make sure your facts are accurate, unembellished and as complete as possible.

Include specific details of the time, location, remarks made (words used), physical contact made (touches), and any potential witnesses that the company might want to interview to verify the facts.

Whistle-blowing reports usually fail because of a lack of detailed information.

  • Keep emails, text messages or other evidence that you can use to show that this is happening and that it is not simply possible that you are being oversensitive or creating trouble.
  • Consider using your phone or video recorder to demonstrate your harasser’s habit of coming by your desk or somewhere similar, and what they are saying to you.
  • Check your motives and don’t report with malicious intent, such as to get revenge on somebody who has upset you.

Most companies regard malicious whistle-blowing and reporting as a serious misconduct – and it could result in you being demoted, fined or even losing your job.

  • Consider discussing the issue with somebody you trust completely before making your report.

It could be that you misunderstood what was going on, or it might even be too risky to make the report at all, and changing jobs, or even companies, might be a better option.
A good friend or colleague who shares your office might be a good person to talk to, and may well know of other cases where the same person has done similar things before, which could be useful information when making the report or finding others who have been similarly harassed.

  • Make sure the company’s HR management is doing their part to ensure you are properly protected and that you will not be victimised for coming forward with the truth.

Check their whistle-blowing policies and procedures to make sure it looks well thought out, and that the protection of whistle-blowers’ reporting in good faith is guaranteed.

  • Ask around and see if other people have reported incidents through the whistle-blowing line and, if so, what happened. Did the issue get resolved, or did it backfire on them and escalate the situation?

What Should Companies Do?

In today’s world, where employees are much more likely to sue their employer for failing them when they need help the most, it is well worth for companies to set up the right structures to ensure their staff are able to raise concerns and that issues can be dealt with at the earliest stage possible. 
Companies should consider:

  • Setting up a confidential reporting line to HR compliance, and/or an independent director of the company so that staff can raise serious issues and be confident that the report will be kept secure and acted upon. The line should be accessible out of working hours as this is when most whistle-blowing reporting is done.
  • Ensuring reporting and investigation procedures are well thought through, with the well-being of the person making the report being the priority. On the other hand, the well-being of the person being reported about must be equally protected – in the event that this is an instance of malicious and fictitious reporting.
  • Investigations should be conducted as quickly, discretely and as thoroughly as possible. Consider using anonymous surveys to allow staff to raise issues which would otherwise remain hidden. Online survey engines such as Survey Monkey, Zonka Feedback or QuestionPro can be used at minimal cost.
  • Inform your staff on the reporting line on how the company will handle the report and details of the whistle-blowers protection policy.
  • Assure the staff that all reports made in good faith will be handled sensitively and thoroughly.
  • Publish the results of investigations from time to time, so that both – the staff being victimised and the staff misusing their positions – are aware that the company is serious about taking action.


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Tags: Influence

Mark Lovatt is a thought leader and an internationally recognised expert in the area of corruption and business integrity systems. He is a faculty member of Leaderonomics and CEO of Trident Integrity Solutions Sdn Bhd, working in Malaysia for a better corporate environment and an improved world for us all.

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