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Case Analysis: Legally Right Or Morally Correct

Organisations need a leadership that balances emotions with facts, firmness with fairness, and punishment with an opportunity to reform, writes Shanthi Naresh

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When the impact of an incident at home is carried to the workplace and it adversely affects an employee’s actions and behaviours at work, most organisations respond by talking to the employee investigating the incident, and by possibly “treating” or punishing the employee. When the impact is on co-workers at the workplace, and when it leads to physical or mental harm, punishment is often severe.

Does it therefore not seem reasonable that when an employee spends more than 50 per cent of his/her day at work, organisations need to take some level of responsibility for the employees’ conduct outside the workplace? The thin line between home and workplace is eroding further with the advent of technology and flexible work practices, making it even more difficult to isolate the effect of one environment on the other. This increases the onus on the organisation to ensure that the values that it stands for are adhered to by the employees at all times.

In recent years, respect for diversity has become a core value for many organisations, especially as the workforce has become more heterogeneous. Specific focus is on gender diversity, as the number of working women has also increased. While best-in-class organisations have constituted internal teams to enforce equity and safety of women, several countries, including India have also introduced legislation to protect the physical and emotional safety of women. Both these have set precedence for other organisations to consider when the principles of equity and safety are violated. Cases range from sexual harassment to criminal acts both at the workplace and at home. Two examples: While a senior executive, who was found guilty of sexual harassment at work, was terminated from his organisation, an employee in another organisation was charged by the police for the murder of his wife. He was immediately terminated from his organisation as a potential criminal offender. Interestingly, the sexual harasser in the first instance was accused of similar offence in his next job too, and was again terminated, begging the question of what should the nature of punishment in such cases be, and how much is enough.

The repetition of the sexual harassment problem in Case 1 establishes that while both organisations had dealt swiftly with the symptom, they had perhaps not done a good enough job of dealing with the root cause. It is quite likely that untreated, the person would continue to commit similar crimes.

Our case at hand seems to have shades of both the examples above. Mukesh is suspected of a criminal offence — physically abusing his wife. Mukesh also seems to have an inherently derogatory attitude towards women, evidenced by his remark to his colleague Sameep to “get the girls” to carry the heavy cartons, and his only recent deferential attitude towards the MD’s secretary.

Recognising that the organisation is responsible for the conduct of its employees towards women both at and outside the workplace, taking action to enforce this belief requires conviction, moral courage and a rare kind of leadership, one that balances emotions with facts, firmness with fairness, and punishment with an opportunity to reform. Clearly, the Duwell leadership falls short of many of these attributes.

Perhaps a more comprehensive way to deal with Mukesh’s issue may be is to first have the MD take ownership for the issue. An immediate conversation with Mukesh focusing on the domestic violence issue, and with a warning about the consequences for his job could be followed up by Gen. Hadappa helping him get professional help. A process could be instituted by which Mukesh’s progress is monitored by either Gen. Hadappa or Firuza to ensure that the help provided is effective.

From Duwell’s perspective, the case shows the need for sensitising the MC to the issue of domestic violence. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for all MC members to volunteer time with the NGO. And finally, Firuza may want to set up both an organisational process for dealing with crimes committed by Duwell employees against women (both at work and outside), as well as create a channel through which women employees could voice their complaints.

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The writer is India Business Leader, Talent Consulting and Information Solutions, at Mercer Consulting India. She has 25 years of experience as an HR professional, across industry and consulting

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2016)