· Features

Hot topic: Online sexual harassment, part two

How can HR protect employees from predatory behaviour online?

A Financial Times exposé into a men-only Presidents Club dinner has become the latest in a string of sexual harassment scandals. Another recent FT investigation found that technology is fuelling harassment. So should HR be monitoring use of technology at work?

Caroline Nugent, director of HR and OD for London Boroughs of Havering and Newham and PPMA president, says:

HR needs to set the standards in organisations and challenge inappropriate behaviour – especially at leadership level, which then permeates down... ‘if it’s acceptable for them, it’s acceptable for me!’

I do not believe we should be monitoring the use of technology at work for this issue as we start to cross a potential line on data protection and individual rights (and HR resources are so thin now we need to use them wisely).

However, we do need to have clear support for those affected and be prepared to discipline or exit people who break the rules – and let employees know these are the consequences. Guidance to staff (for example ‘remember Facebook allows people to watch your movements’) and having robust whistleblowing and domestic violence processes to bring things to the attention of management where needed, help to reinforce non-toleration.

Ultimately it’s an organisation’s culture which supports inappropriate behaviour, and it’s an individual’s right to know how to protect themselves or others.

Elisabeth Kelan, associate professor of leadership at Cranfield School of Management, says:

That technology can be used as a tool for sexual harassment should be a concern for HR professionals. For HR it is important to have clear policies, practices and values on what is acceptable in relation to technology use and what is not, and to ensure that employees are aware of those.

If organisational technology like shared calendars or internal social media platforms are used to harass another employee, HR needs to carefully weigh the drawbacks of this technology with its benefits. Could certain privacy settings be employed that only reveal necessary information?

HR’s influence over private social media usage is more limited, but individuals should be able to only show certain content to others or to block people altogether.

Rather than controlling technology use, for most organisations it would be more appropriate to communicate policies, practices and values around how those technologies should be used.

Read the first part of this Hot topic