We have travelled some distance in understanding Harassment at the Workplace.
However, there is a reality that we are avoiding! People who spend 9 – 12 hours at the Workplace and have close interaction on projects, deadlines and even join Facebook and other interest clubs together, will eventually find themselves in a romantic relationship with colleagues.
So, do we want to be the moral police and ban it completely? No – Colleagues, who work together are able to relate to each other – Be it celebrating achievements, career goals, failures, inability to say ‘no’, procrastination tendencies, etc.
Recently, I met an old colleague who, at the time was dating someone from office. It was so hushed-up that none of us knew, till they got married. As we recalled old times, he laughed, as he said “Today, my family comes to work and leaves together”.
He left the organisation, a couple of years after they were married. This may be one of the few ‘Happily Ever After’ stories.
Some sour stories include relationships formed just out of lust, combined with an attitude of ‘friends with benefits’. This is the lie that the India Inc. is indirectly telling itself and others.
It’s clearly depicted in the iGate saga with Phaneesh Murthy. This excerpt from the law firm’s statement that represented Aricelli Roiz, says it all!
“In his role as Ms. Roiz’s supervisor, Mr. Murthy, as he had with his previous victims, insinuated himself into Ms. Roiz’s personal life using the pretext of business necessity. In this way, Mr. Murthy was able to induce Ms. Roiz into behavior and action that she would have found unthinkable at the beginning of her employment. The only reason Mr. Murthy was able to engage in these abusive and harassing actions is because he was Ms Roiz’s employer. The CEO of any company, as Mr. Murthy was here, has tremendous economic and personal power over his subordinates…”
The CEO, in question here, was pursuing the victim from the time she had begun her employment at iGate. Though Murthy was not her manager, she was reporting to him, since he was working out of the California office.
For an organisation that wants to walk a different route, we force you to ask yourself if your dating policy allows your employees to think on these lines:
a. Your current work relationship with the person
b. The timing that one chooses to disclose the relationship status – Especially when you are in an exceedingly powerful position
c. How do you choose to reveal these truths?
d. d. What do you do, when your gestures are not reciprocated?
Redeeming the Murthy Saga – How can Organisations and Employees protect themselves?
A. The position that a person is in, has a lot to do with how they treat others. When in a supervisory role, one automatically assumes that the rights of many individuals, are in your control – This is a big ‘lie’ that managers tend to believe in. Be realistic and don’t assume the ‘Saviour’ role. Talk to a senior member or an HR person in your Organisation about the attraction you may feel, towards a member in your team.
B. Ignorance is NOT bliss: As pointed out by Ms. Roiz’s Lawyers, iGate should have known the status of their relationship 3 years prior to the incident. For any organisation, this is a long time to sit on a ticking bomb, especially when operating on foreign soil and having hired a CEO, with the reputation he had. Companies cannot claim ignorance in situations of the above. Not just a minimal qualification check, but a deep background check into personal records is a necessity. And a constant pulse check not just on performance of employees, but how they are treated too!!
C. Do NOT put yourself in a position of power play: If you know that your manager may have an attraction to you, it’s time to speak to your HR about it. Not because you want your manager to be defamed, but because it’s the right thing to do for yourself, your manager and to your other colleagues.
C. Even if it’s one sided relationship, and if it does not allow a person, especially in a superior position to think and act in a unbiased manner, then it is time for change!!
So, what should a dating policy really do?
D. It should provide for an employee to come and report the relationship status, especially if it creates a conflict of interest. E.g. Client and vendor relationships, manager and subordinate, etc. it should be handled sensitively and in a confidential manner. Talk to a senior member in the team or an HR person. Disclose your thoughts and be willing to hear from them on the policy as well as work related commitments that you need to fulfill.
E. It should clearly state the time that they report the relationship status – The relationship status should be reported right at the beginning itself.
F. No 2 people in a relationship can share a reporting structure/ work even in an indirect form. Mr. Murthy and Ms. Roiz, did not share a direct reporting structure, however, due to other work dynamics that were at play, Ms. Roiz did report into Mr. Murthy.
G. It should allow for employees to decide, if they wish to leave the organisation, especially if they want to pursue the relationship, and there would be no way of doing so, without allowing the work related policies to come in-between them
H. The policy should state that any insubordination, in light of such relationships, will be handled with severity as there can be no place for favouritism.
This should not be just for the big companies. Even start-ups and smaller organisation, should be clear on their stance, to avoid issues that consume time and effort that is spent in arbitration of conflicts at the Workplace.