It’s safe to say that the ongoing sexual harassment allegations at a Malaysian radio station, BFM, has opened up the can of worms. Cases of sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new issue, and the BFM scandal has definitely awoken sleeping dragons.
Sexual harassment in itself in Malaysia has yet to be classified as a crime. However, there are provisions within the Employment Act that require employers to investigate into a sexual harassment claim, where failure to do so can lead to a fine of RM10,000.
Knowing how to tackle this sticky issue can save you and your company from the pitfalls of such allegations.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
As bosses, owners, top management or even HR managers, just because you have not received a complaint on this topic, don’t assume that it doesn’t happen. Most victims stay silent due to fear of losing their jobs, promotions, or fear of being casted as outright liars.
Make recent news events, such as the alleged harassment at BFM, as an opportunity to remind all employees, whether staff or management, of your company’s anti-harassment policy.
Highlight the consequences of behaviours that are construed as harassment, such as being fired, reported to authorities and so on. This can be done simply with a memo by HR or the business owner, and sent out via an email blast.
If you don’t have an anti-harassment policy, it’s time to create one.
If Your Company Received A Sexual Harassment Complaint…
So what can you as a business owner do to solve such issues in your office?
1. Build trust
Lead your employees in a way that fosters feelings of trust. Show that you take a sexual harassment complaint seriously, by having the HR manager records the complaint in your presence.
Commit to follow through until the case is solved or closed. There’s no better way to build trust than to lead by example, aligning what you say with what you do.
2. Be Professional and Investigate
Investigate the complaint in a professional manner. If you don’t have a HR manager, there should also be a third party to be present with you. You will need to interview the complainant, the accused, and the witness(es). Documentation of all interviews will be necessary.
3. You May Request for The Alleged to Take Leave [restrict]
During investigations, it’s best if the alleged perpetrator and victim take a period of leave. If your business is small and can’t afford staff taking long leave, transfer them to another department and location. You may even consider asking them to work from home, as the internet makes this possible for most jobs. Just make sure that the complainant does not require contacts (via emails or phone) or reporting to the accused.
4. Invoke Confidence and Security in Your Staff
Reassure your staff that you and the company are committed to providing a safe environment. Encourage your staff to highlight unacceptable behaviour as and when it happens.
Don’t let them just be a bystander, with a simple “that’s not funny”, or “that’s actually offensive”. Promoting and fostering a culture of openness and understanding is important to retain staff while creating a positive outlook of your business.
5. Quarantine The Spread of Rumours
Advice other staff from discussing this issue, and spreading rumours.
Place a workplace gag order on the topic. Anyone caught talking about it will have some form of punishment such as no bonus, and so on. Rumours can be detrimental not only to the investigation of the sexual harassment allegation, but also place a dent on your company’s reputation.
This can in turn lead to a dip in confidence in your businesses customers or clients, and may even affect your company’s growth. The faster you place a lid on things, the better.
6. Engage The Authorities
In the event that it is found that a staff is guilty of the allegations, consider reporting the incident to the authorities. Encourage your staff to lodge a police report .
With a police report and a conclusive guilty evidence after a company investigation, dismiss the harasser without additional compensation. The police report can protect you from being sued for unfair dismissal.
The last thing you’ll want is all your staff walking out on your company. The Google sexual harassment scandal earlier this year had its global staff walked out as a sign of protest over favourable treatments of harassers.
Such publicity can negatively impact the whole-being and reputation of your company. Low morale among staff, and bad reputation among customers and your industry will only lead to bad financial health for your company.
Handling a sexual harassment allegation is never comfortable for any business owner. Besides the discomfort, issues like this can be downright hurtful.
After all, we are still humans with emotions. But with the right knowledge and soft-skills we can positively turn around any sticky situation.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice. If legal advice is required or preferred, you should contact a lawyer immediately.
Nip sexual harassment behaviours in the bud by setting clear anti-harassment policy and by managing without favour. Don’t let a star employee or manager get away with bad behaviour that can impact morale. Remember to act on the complaint and not brush it aside, as companies are required to do so under Malaysian law.