How Can Ethics and Compliance Officers Fight (AND PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM) Workplace Harassment?

The form of workplace harassment that tends to get written about most often is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable and all too common. People more rarely discuss other forms of workplace harassment, which are just as common and can be just as damaging. Here are some of the many forms of workplace harassment:

  • Discriminatory Harassment – Being treated differently because of your race, gender, orientation, religion, background, ability, or age.
  • Physical Harassment – Being touched inappropriately even when it is not sexual in nature. Hollywood producer Scott Rudin was just fired for allegedly throwing staplers at his employees.
  • Psychological Harassment – When you are being belittled, denied, gaslighted, isolated, discredited, or psychologically damaged by your employers.
  • Verbal Harassment – When you are being spoken to in a way that is unacceptable and damaging.

Compliance helps to combat workplace harassment. A robust compliance program includes the responsibility of shaping and building policies and procedures that promote an ethical workplace. However, Compliance Officers can easily become victims of it themselves.

How Compliance Officers Combat Harassment

If you work at a business with both a Compliance and HR Department, workplace harassment claims are typically handled by HR. However, Compliance can be used to directly combat workplace harassment. When creating corporate compliance policies, you should include practices that disallow and protect against workplace harassment. It then becomes the Compliance Officer’s and the HR’s roles to ensure the company’s policies are being followed, including any relating to workplace harassment. In smaller businesses or in companies that don’t have a Compliance Department, it is common for HR to be the only department directly involved in handling workplace harassment claims. Still, it is not the ideal scenario due to conflicts in case HR itself is the one accused of harassing someone.

How Compliance Officers May Face Harassment

While it is also the Compliance Officer’s responsibility to combat workplace harassment, they can easily experience it themselves. Compliance Officers can be often harassed by their coworkers and supervisors for having a role that relates to ethical business conduct and morals. People bothered by Compliance Officers’ role consider them a “goody-two-shoes” or a “police officer”.

It’s pretty common to have Compliance Officers’ pairs or other C-suite executives treating them differently because of their role in the company. Even Compliance Officers’ supervisors, if they are not aligned with the ethics and compliance principles, can represent a nightmare to a Compliance professional who is merely doing his/her work in the organization.

There are times when a supervisor and C-suite executives have no grounds for firing the Compliance Officer. However for personal reasons they feel that they have to get rid of him/her due to the barriers this professional is creating to them in order to prevent them from damaging the company’s reputation – then the nightmare and cruelty start. Other officers, including a Compliance Officer supervisor, can treat him/her with malice, trying to isolate and to boycott him/her, doing all they can to force this professional to quit his/her job and to eventually leave the company.

An article written by a renowned Compliance expert, Patricia Punder, successfully describes how tough a Compliance Officer’s life can be in the workplace, the effects that such harassment produces and negatively affects a person who is simply playing his/her role in order to protect the organization and the people who work in it. The article is in Portuguese, yet it is worth translating it into English.

How To Help Your Compliance Officer

A good option is to hire a Compliance Consultant who could provide outsourced support to the company’s Compliance Officer. This second set of eyes could help have your Compliance Officer’s back in everyday or stressful situations. As Compliance Officers at some organizations lack the C-suite support they need to perform their jobs, having someone working alongside them could also prevent burnout from a Compliance Officer. This Compliance Consultant could provide assistance on a permanent or interim basis, assisting your Compliance Officer as needed. Hiring a Compliance Consultant may give the impression that the company is double-paying for having a Compliance service. However it’s exactly the opposite, the organization would avoid spending money on employees’ lawsuits, which are usually very expensive, and with replacement processes. Needless to say, talented workers would be retained.

Where To Begin

Workplace harassment is all too real and all too common. Compliance Officers are some of the most beneficial combatants to workplace harassment, even though they can suffer it just as easily as anyone else. Protect your workplace, we can help your company find solutions tailored to your specific needs.