Panel on workplace bullying, harassment and relationships
12/04/2021
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Guerdon Associates and CGI Glass Lewis hosted their 15th annual Remuneration and Governance Forum, this COVID time as a webinar, on the 23rd and 30th of March.

This article is the third of three that summaries the main sessions.

The Forum held a panel on workplace bullying, harassment and relationships.

The forum panel and discussion was held online due to COVID-19 on 30th of March.

A significant number of high-profile cases of bullying, sexual assault and harassment in the workplace have occurred recently. As such incidents pose a significant amount of reputational risk for a company, it is important that boards have plans for how to respond.

The panel’s clearest advice was that companies need to move quickly. Slow responses from boards create the perception that companies do not treat the issue as seriously as it deserves. This has risks for the company’s brand and social license to operate. Whilst due process is important, it must be an efficient enough process that the company can be seen to be responding quickly. This also requires transparency on the board’s part. The rhetoric and narrative on social media cannot be ignored and companies should prepare to respond to it.

In order to move quickly companies should make sure they are not over legalising the process. When something goes wrong in a company there is a tendency to rely on lawyers’ (slow) advice to determine what a company can and cannot do.

As brand and reputational damage from media reports of these actions can be just as damaging as other risks, the company should consider stress testing scenarios to ensure the board has the skills and training necessary to respond quickly and correctly.

On relationships between management and their employees, the panel opined that executives should be completely transparent about any relationships they have with employees of the company. The executives should be held to a higher standard than the rest of the company. A ban on these relationships may even be reasonable due to power imbalances.

Finally, the panel stressed that a company must ensure that it has the right culture to ensure that bullying and harassment do not happen at the company and if they do, it isn’t swept under the rug. A company’s culture is set by management and it should discourage bullying and harassment. In the event that these occur, an employee should feel they are able to report it so companies do not get into the situation where everyone but the board knows. Because tone is set at the top you must make sure you have the right team to get the right culture. For directors, this may require doing background checks on executives yourself rather than relying on search firms.

© Guerdon Associates 2021
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