Inappropriate behaviour in my company: what to do?

Inappropriate behaviour such as aggression, violence, threats, and bullying can lead to health problems, higher absenteeism, and lower productivity. But what is Inappropriate behaviour in the workplace? And how do you deal with it? Find out in this article.

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’. The Arbeidsomstandighedenwet or Arbowet (Working Conditions Act) sets out what is inappropriate behaviour. Bullying, aggression, discrimination, or sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes all forms of unwanted physical contact such as touches, hugs, and kisses. But also sexist or flirty remarks or "jokes". This also includes inappropriate online messages or images. Inappropriate behaviour can be both conscious and unconscious. A joke that was not meant to be hurtful can still hurt. A racist "joke" falls under discrimination. 

Inappropriate behaviour can occur between colleagues, but also between colleagues and clients or business partners.

Measures to take

As an employer, you are legally obliged under the Arbowet to provide a safe working environment for your staff. This includes taking measures against 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. You risk a fine of up to €90,000.

Inappropriate behaviour also causes health problems among your staff. Take the measures below to comply with the Arbowet and tackle inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

PSA Policy

If you employ staff, you must draw up a policy for psychosocial work stress, a PSA policy. Examples of psychosocial work stress are a high workload, but also inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. 

Draw up a code of conduct

A code of conduct is not compulsory, but will help ensure that you comply with the Arbowet. Having a code of conduct helps you meet the Arbowet requirement that, as an employer, you must take measures to reduce the psychosocial workload of your employees. Your code of conduct should describe:

  • 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 in drawing up the code. They can indicate if information is missing, and identify the obstacles that might stop your employees from reporting inappropriate behaviour. 

A code of conduct is part of your Arbobeleid (Working Conditions Policy, 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 not mandatory but is a good way to implement the legally required PSA policy. Employees can turn to a confidential advisor with questions and reports. Do you only have a 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. The confidential adviser is never the possible guilty party and so is always approachable for victims.

You can find an external confidential adviser through your arbodienst (health and safety service provider) or sector organisation This article about confidential advisers in SMEs explains how to arrange this.

Lead by example

It is also important to set a good example yourself. So, speak to a colleague when they show inappropriate behaviour. 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 signals such as withdrawal or avoidance behaviour by an employee. 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 of recurring conversations, such as the performance review.

What to do when someone makes a report?

Does an employee report inappropriate behaviour to you or the confidential adviser? Then you should take the following 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.