A lot has been said and made out of the entire saga revolving around the spate of allegations on Arunabh Kumar (Founder and CEO, The Viral Fever). However, not many have realized one of the critical takeaways for small, growing organizations from this episode: the need to take the possibility of sexual harassment at their workplaces, seriously.
As startups commence their operations and grow, they get so immersed with the goals of business expansion and customer reach, that they might neglect upholding the fundamentals of organizational hygiene and safety. Even if their hiring process is extremely rigorous, and the work culture vibrant and progressive, it still does not discount the remote chances of occurrence of untoward incidents in the office.
It is not just the duty of the company to take proactive steps towards the prevention of such acts, but also to respond responsibly, whenever any such allegations surface, however implausible they may be. Failure to do so could directly impact their brand image, and bottom line too.
In fact, as per the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013, for any office or branch with 10 or more employees, the employer is legally bound to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee, and strictly adhere to all the tenets of the Act. There should be clarity on the rights of the employees, and on the definition of workplace sexual harassment. If and when any cases are reported, the first priority should be to have a fair and impartial internal investigation. All of this, points to the need of having a robust HR in place; something that always exists in theory but may be lacking in practice, for startups. A strong and independently functioning HR team can inspire confidence in the employees to come forward and reach out to them. If prompt action is taken on each case, it can also serve as a precedent, so as to stem inappropriate behaviour. Simply put, the aim should be to tackle and resolve all such incidents internally itself.
In case the incident does go public, unfortunately, it is very important to choose the words carefully, when issuing an official statement. When the investigation is at a nascent stage, making any conjectures on the authenticity of the incident is reckless, and could be counterproductive for the organization. Similarly, defending the accused, extolling the company’s virtues and/or instantiating the company culture do not make sense, and would be considered as deflecting the issue at hand. Instead, the endeavour should be to outline the organization’s commitment to addressing the issue, in a timely and unbiased manner.
Taking care of these little (but vital) things can go a long way in building goodwill, and making your company a safe and happy place to work.
(Views expressed in the blog are solely the author’s opinion)