Inappropriate behaviour in my company: what to do?

If you employ staff, you run into new situations every day. From career or salary wishes to poorly functioning employees and absenteeism. This raises all sorts of questions. In this article, we discuss how to deal with inappropriate behaviour.

What is inappropriate behaviour?

Inappropriate behaviour is a collective term for all forms of behaviour in which one person does not respect another person’s boundaries. In Dutch, we speak of ‘grensoverschrijdend gedrag’, which translates literally as ‘boundary crossing behaviour’. Think of bullying, aggression, discrimination, or sexual harassment. For example in the form of unwanted touches, hugs, and kisses. But also nasty or flirty remarks or racist "jokes". Or by sending inappropriate online messages or images.

An example from the KVK Advice Team

Recently, the KVK Advice Team received a call from an SME owner on this topic: 'After all the media attention on the subject of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, I realise that I have no written agreements on this subject at all. I have no code of conduct and no policy in case of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. What can and should I do? I want to show my staff that I am committed to creating a safe working environment. Also, how can I record such agreements? And maybe even more importantly: what should I do if an employee reports inappropriate behaviour?'

In short, the answer from the KVK advisers: 'You are obliged to provide a safe working environment for your staff. You must have a psychosocial workload policy (PSA policy) for this. By drawing up a code of conduct, you can also ensure a safer working environment. Having regular discussions with your employees on this topic will also help. This prevents possible inappropriate behaviour and makes it easier to discuss. If you do receive a report, start by listening carefully to what is going on with the notifier. Then talk to the possible guilty party and possibly a confidential adviser. External parties can help you find a solution.'

Legislation

As an employer, you are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment for your staff. This is part of being a good employer. This includes topics such as discrimination, sexual harassment, aggression, bullying, and work pressure. Do you not have a policy to ensure that employees can work pleasantly and safely? Then you are violating Article 34 of the Working Conditions Act (Arbeidsomstandighedenwet). You risk a fine of up to €90,000.

PSA Policy

To ensure that you comply with the legislation, you must draw up a policy for psychosocial work stress: a PSA policy. Examples of psychosocial workload are a high workload, but also inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. The  Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER) explains how to draw up such a policy (pdf, in Dutch).

Preventing inappropriate behaviour

In addition to your general PSA policy, you can make your workplace safer. This may prevent inappropriate behaviour. For example, you can: 

  • draw up a code of conduct;
  • appoint a confidential adviser;
  • set a good example yourself;
  • talk with your employees regularly. 

Draw up a code of conduct

Start by drawing up a code of conduct, in which you describe the following:

  • What falls under inappropriate behaviour.
  • How an employee can report inappropriate behaviour.
  • What steps you take after a report of this type of behaviour.
  • What are the consequences for colleagues who exhibit inappropriate behaviour. 

Present this code of conduct to all your employees and discuss it with them. Do you have a works council or staff representation? Involve them. They can indicate if information is missing, and identify the obstacles that might stop your employees from filing a report of inappropriate behaviour. 

A code of conduct is part of the Working Conditions Policy (Arbobeleid, in Dutch). You can find more information about this on Business.gov.nl. You can also find more information on the website of the Netherlands Labour Authority (Nederlandse Arbeidsinspectie, in Dutch).

Appoint a confidential adviser

Appointing a confidential adviser is a good way to implement the legally required PSA policy. Employees can turn to a confidential advisor with questions and reports. Do you have few employees? Then an external confidential adviser can offer a solution. The advantage is that they are never involved in the problem in the company. That makes them easier to approach for all employees. That is to say: the confidential adviser is never the possible guilty party and so is always approachable to victims.

Appointing a confidential adviser is not (yet) directly required by law. A regulation to give every employee right of access to a confidential adviser is being drafted.

This article about confidential advisers in SMEs explains what is involved in arranging a confidential adviser.

Lead by example

It is also important to set a good example yourself. So, speak to a colleague when they show inappropriate behaviour. Always use the I-form. For example: "I just saw that you... and I think that is inappropriate because we do not treat each other like that in this organisation." These comments make the subject more visible and others learn to pay attention to signals as well. Sometimes someone does not realise the effect their behaviour has on the other person, and a comment is enough to stop the behaviour.

Keep an eye on your employees

Finally, pay attention to signs such as withdrawal or avoidance behaviour. Does an employee suddenly behave differently? Talk about it and give the employee room to say if something is not going well.

Also make this a regular part during recurring conversations, such as the performance review.

What to do with a report?

Does an employee report undesirable behaviour to you or the confidential adviser? Then you have to take several steps.

Listen

Support the employee who reports inappropriate behaviour as much as possible. That can be done in different ways. It starts with offering a listening ear to the victim. Take the victim seriously and show compassion.

Then discuss the next steps with the notifier. Possibly together with the confidential adviser.

Talk to the possible guilty party

Talk with the employee who may be guilty of inappropriate behaviour about the report. Point out the consequences of this behaviour. The confidential advisor can help with this.

Enable a third party

Can you not come to an agreement or does the behaviour not stop? Then engage an external party, such as the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights. Employers can contact them for advice.

Clarity for your staff is important. This applies not only to behaviour in the workplace, but also, for example, to leave, absenteeism, and assessment. Always make sure you have an employee handbook that includes all of these elements.