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A CEO Dilemma. What would you do?

So, this is a true story:

About a year ago, we employed a person (man) in one of the 2win companies. 

Within a month of joining, he had started ‘harassing’ the women in our office by sending them messages and making them feel very uncomfortable. While the messages were not ‘lewd’, they were offensive and intimidating.

The moment the matter was escalated to me, I called the man into the conference room and confronted him. He kept quiet and had no defence.

We have instituted a Vishakha Committee in 2win and they stepped in to investigate. A few more women came forward with the same story.

I fired that person on the spot and forbade him to return to his desk. I admit I was very harsh to him and screamed at him. The well being of women and their safety is my achilles heel. His belongings were given to him and he was asked to leave the office. I also mentioned that the ‘investigation’ was still on and we would file a police complaint if required.

The next morning I sent a note to my team and asked if anyone of them had an issue. A couple of more girls came forward.

Now comes the shocker:

This man mailed ALL THE 2WIN employees saying that – ‘Alok was harassing him and that he was contemplating suicide and would name me in a letter as the person responsible’. 

As as you would have guessed, he became unreachable post that message.

The next 96 hours WERE HELL for me. While we filed a police complaint (and the police assured me that there was nothing wrong with my actions as long as there was a cause for the firing), I cannot tell you how defeated I felt by this strange act of blackmail. I mean what was a CEO supposed to do? (I even filed a Facebook suicide alert!!)

5 days later Mr. Suicide Bomber (as we call him in the office now) began posting pictures of Birds and Trees on Facebook and we knew he was as fine as anyone can be.

But this is what happens when you act in the best interest of your Company, your people and your position and the possible backlash you can encounter given the screwed up laws of this country.

What would you do if you were in my case?

 


***

First Published on: Dec 13, 2015

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26 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Paresh Manoj Shinde

    There are no two ways…you did the best thing of firing him on the spot. Women safety is the most important thing. This guy knew exactly what he is doing and he manipulated the whole thing. I am appalled with the way how more and more girls were coming forward. These kind of people are depressed sick viruses which not only affects the working but also the overall confidence of the person. Even after you fired him, this ass still didn’t felt sorry and continued working with his sick brain to give more trouble.

    You did the right thing. If i would have been at your place, i would have find his whereabouts and do the police complain again of blackmailing me. I would have darken his view of watching birds and trees for sure so that he can get some sense in his soul book. 

  2. Profile photo of Nitin

    This should have been handled by a committee. As you rightly did but the decision to fire came from you and hence the problem. These should have been my response.

    1) The committee should be brought immediately and any personal confrontation should be avoided.

    2) The accused should be suspended immediately till the investigation is complete. But no personal confrontation or screaming etc. Just let the person know that he is going on forced leave till the investigation is complete.

    3) During the case, always the committee (atleast 3 people group) confronts the accused. 

    4) Once done, simply file an FIR, terminate his employment and a mass mail to all employee from committee about the incident.

  3. Profile photo of Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal

    Thanks. This makes sense. There were 5 people during the confrontation, but your method is perfect.

  4. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    i remember this incident. and i remember you pinging me in chat as soon as this happened. i also remember how shocked you were at his behaviour and how concerned we all were for the next couple of days. 

    i like nitin’s method – surely we can adopt it.

    he had to be fired alok. and dealt with sternly. for a couple of reasons: 

    i) so that he doesn’t dare repeat this at his next work place

    ii) so that no other newbie in the office thinks it’s okay to flirt with women colleagues. 

    iii) so that women in office feel reassured and know that 2win is a safe place to work with ZERO TOLERANCE for such behaviour. 

    i also think, when such an incident happens (especially when the boy is young and single) his parents/family should be informed. 

  5. Profile photo of Vinayak Rajanahally

    If it was me, I would have asked Vishakha Committee to do a thorough investigation about the accusations and get first hand statements from the ones affected.  If he is proven to be guilty of committing mistake, I would have issued him strict warning to change his behaviour immediately.  Would keep him under monitoring and fire him if he commits that mistake again.  

    The reason Im saying it is because a similar incident had happened in my organization many years back.  The guy was talented, but few girls complained about his intimidating messages sent.  I warned him and asked him to change his behaviour.  He came from a small tier 3 town and unfortunately someone had given him a picture that girls in cities were fast and easy.  I got him counselled by an external expert and believe me, he later turned out to be one of the best performers at work liked by everyone.  He works elsewhere now but considers me as a guide / mentor.  

  6. Profile photo of Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal

    Great advise

  7. Profile photo of Nilesh Gamit

    Alok, you did the right thing and there is nothing wrong.

    Four years back we had similar case in our company. I didn’t take right action on-time because, it was first time that I encountered such issue in my professional life. I had no clue how to proceed. Moreover other management person was not ready to make his hands dirty to take stong action against the culprit because of biased opinion. Some so called mature people suggested, it happens in corporate life, forget and move on. The culprit left the company after some months and done enough damage as there were many people in company (including males and females), chose to believe his part of story, which he shared privately with them to gain sympathy and support. No body cared to know and understand the real story. I still regret, not firing him in public.

    If the same thing happened today, I would fire him immediately, once he found guilty and if require, will file a police complain also.

    In private meeting, this kind of morons will say sorry shamelessly or won’t say a word just to avoid confrontation. They don’t accept their misdeed easily. So before firing, I would love to embarrass this kinda person in public meeting for his actions, so no more gossips on what happened. This will leave no scope for future clarification to anyone and the culprit will have no chance to spread false stories (though I bet, some people will still support him behind your back for one or more reasons and we can’t control it).

  8. Profile photo of Ajay Sanghani

    Lot of good suggestions by Nitin, Asha and Vinayak.

    Some additional thoughts.

    a) Was any reference check done before hiring ? Did the candidate mention 2 names in his resume as references to contact. They should be alerted about his behavior in the presence of the candidate.
    Not sure if Parents too should be intimated, maybe yes.

    b) Inquire why it took a year to fire the harasser. Could the flag not have been raised in the firs t month itself ? Can the HR or Senior Team be more vigilant to get such signals and raise a flag immediately ? Did the harasser have friends who supported or encouraged him ?

    c) The first or second girl victim need to be also counselled to be brave enough to raise official flags when boundaries are crossed. The brave person who escalated the issue should be rewarded as that person acted in the interest of the company.

    d) An apology letter could be offered to the harasser to sign and close the matter and leave. If the apology is sincere and the girls choose to forgive, he could be given one final chance to continue.

    e) The confrontation session could also be video recorded , to submit to police if required.

    – Ajay

  9. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    ajay – it didn’t take a year to fire him.

    this incident happened a long time ago. alok just shared it today…

  10. Profile photo of Neel Shah

    I would not fire him immediately. What I feel and have experienced is that such people like the exit case and do not improve. Instead, there are 2-3 things one does:-

    (1) Get written complaints from the women. Then in a small group (not necessarily a committee) except the victims, call him in a meeting room and share the findings. Ask him for his justification and a written apology. Give him a warning that now there will be strict monitoring and henceforth any such complaint will lead to immediate exit. Make him sign this warning statement himself. If he writes (not types) the chances of realization are much higher.

    (2) Am not sure but we even talk to the persons parents. Not sure if they need to get involved but we felt that it is our moral and corporate responsibility to try and influence a person into being better. If he changes and is ready for a turnaround, he will be obliged for life and will prove to be a great asset in the long run. He can become your go-to man.

    (3) Issue a notice (mail could be from the HR) to all members of the company (without naming anyone) that the harassment is something we deal with strongly. What you do with your personal life is not our concern, but the company is built to create something great and no nonsense will be tolerated here. So it gives out a strong message to all.

    (4) Can parallely investigate if the complaints were genuine.

    Am not an HR person but have been a team leader. We feel that if each team leader plays their role well, HR only becomes a facilitator. In most companies, the onus is on HR for recruitment, training, culture setting, performance evaluation, appraisals, exits, etc.

    Thanks,
    Neel Shah

    Dreams to Sell,
    Stories to Tell

  11. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    neel, 

    i don’t think young women in their 20s would feel comfy if a creep who was sending them intimidating msgs was still hanging around in office despite being caught.

    don’t just look at this situation only from a team leader’s point of view. 

    it’s bad enough that women’s safety is not taken seriously in this country. as evolved workplaces, we need to address these things seriously and send the message out to men who misbehave, as it has an impact on society at large. 

  12. Profile photo of Neel Shah

    Imagine this happened in a school? What would you do?

    Imagine this happened with your own son? What would you do?

    I think we need to balance out our behaviour with a stable head. Yes, women’s safety is important and setting an example also is. But we cannot always strongly react to actions. Most of the times, we ourselves defeat the Newton’s 3rd law by giving an unimaginably strong reaction to any such action.

    Can we have case studies to see whats more effective – people being punished / thrown out or people being counselled / guided? We all make mistakes and share random stuff on WhatsApp (earlier mails, etc). Everyone has grey and black shades. No one is morally pure and correct. So its our duty to try and help a person out and bring a change rather than give up.

    Thanks,
    Neel Shah
    #FoodPreneur

    Dreams to Sell,
    Stories to Tell

  13. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    a) this is not school neel. this is a workplace. the offender was not a child.

    b) IMAGINE IF THIS HAPPENED TO YOUR DAUGHTER NEEL. YOUR SISTER. YOUR WIFE. 

    i’m extremely pro good HR practices. am totally a people’s person – i run TRH a pro-bono community with the sole objective of HELPING people! but i have zero tolerance for MISBEHAVING or EVE TEASING. in fact i just told alok y’day that i’m gonna chalk out a policy/code of conduct for trh as well. general etiquette etc. so many times newbie members ping me in chat to get all “chatty” (coz i’m probably the first female in the chat list that they see – alphabetically :))

    i’m pro-counselling. but men who misbehave need to be punished/reprimanded so they don’t repeat it again. 

    i have a daughter. not son. but if i had a son, i would spend a lot of my energies to ensure he grew up to be a sensitive person. 

    everyone has a dark side. let them keep it to their friends and people who appreciate it. it doesn’t belong to the workplace. 

  14. Profile photo of Rajat

    I get anxious when i read such things. 80% of my staff is female. Nitin has posted a superb method to tackle such a case. I think that is what should be done. 

    Of course, firing is what you have to do without a doubt. While hiring I make this thing very clear that there are females and you HAVE TO behave in office. With the female staff I occasionally have meetings and keep myself updated if anything is off track. I communicate with my staff a lot! 

  15. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Couple of things regarding this Alok: 

    1. Any evidence maintained regarding him harassing any of his colleagues? There should be a solid document/written statement/downloaded text messages emails signed by the person submitting them to be maintained as a record. This helps in establishing a ground for investigation even if the person against whom the matter is being investigated decides to do something as foolish as what you mentioned in the context. This is one of the reason the sexual harassment law requires and prescribes proper documentation of records. This may seem like a tedious task on a day to day basis. However, as the law allows a three year duration during which an individual may refute or decide to malign the company (even if the person is no longer working with the company), documentation of timelines and maintaining signed statements come in very handy. 

    2. Firing him before the investigation is over creates a reason for backfire from that person. A better way (as prescribed by the law) is to ask that person to go on leave while the investigation is on. Even this needs to be made clear to all parties involved and documented. 

    3. Are you part of your ICC? If not who is? You as a CEO cannot be. So such decisions cannot come from you especially in the case of sexual harassment. 

    4. Also check if you are compliant with Vishakha guidelines or the Sexual Harassment Act 2013? Vishakha guidelines are no longer relevant so there is no Vishakha committee. You should be having an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) with at least four members – 50% female, out of which one female senior member to head the committee, and one external expert member. I would say make it a five member team instead of four to keep an odd number in case there is a division of opinion in a matter someday. I also suggest that you keep the external member involved in all these matters all the time. 

    5. As CEO, and especially as someone who is not a member of the ICC – do not get involved or take decisions in these matters. They might backfire as the ICC is trained to handle these issues. This is one of the reason law has prescribed that ICC members training is done for procedural, legal and technical know hows of this law. Most of the time senior management individual decide to be part of such capacity building programs as well but even then they cannot get involved in any sexual harassment matter. 

  16. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Hi Vinayak, 

    Good approach and counseling gave an individual a reason to reform himself. However just a quick check – make sure your organization is compliant with the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 and not Vishakha Guidelines. After the law came into effect in December 2013, Vishakha Guidelines are no longer relevant. 

    If your are compliant with the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013, I hope you have focused on the capacity building initiatives for your ICC members. Most of the times organizations think that having a committee is good enough and common sense will prevail in handling sexual harassment complaints. However, following this law requires legal, procedural and behaviors skills which will only happen after structured training. 

    Lastly, I hope you are maintaining documentation. These will be life savers if ever any individual involved in any incident (either as an accused or complainant) decides to change his/her mind and reopen an issue. 

  17. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Hi Nilesh, 

    As nice as it is to see your strong stance against any form of misbehavior in your team, sadly your approach is not advisable. It will get you in trouble. 

    There is a law that has been made to take care of sexual harassment issues at workplace. To follow anything else other than the law will get you more in trouble than that individual. 

    There are guidelines mentioned under this law and I have written about it in one of my writeups here on Rodinhood. Please go through it and get someone to help you become compliant with this law. If you don’t want to look for someone, I will be happy to help you with this. 

  18. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Hi Neel, 

    This does seem to be a sensible approach but again there is a law that exists to take care of cases pertaining to sexual harassment in workplaces. Every workplace must be compliant with this law and its guidelines. Found to be non-compliant with this law despite having best of interests for your organization will land you in legal trouble. It also works in your favor to become compliant and follow the guidelines as the law has provided sufficient measures to take care of prevention, prohibition and redressal mechanisms to handle sexual harassment issues at workplace. You may google on this law or directly read what I have written on this here. I will be happy to answer any further questions that you may have with respect to this Act and its compliance. 

  19. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    Let me know if you need help with the policy Asha. This will set a new benchmark for a lot of online communities. 

  20. Profile photo of Pallavi Pareek

    I will repeat – read up on the law and follow the guidelines. The last thing you want is for some legal non compliance to interrupt your business activities. What is more important then the legal compliance is benefitting from the structure this law is providing for companies to adopt and make their workplace safe. The law not only provides preventive measures but also has redressal and procedural elements defined. Message me and I will brief you on this. BUT do not act instantly in such situations without probing into it further as prescribed by the law. 

    In case you want to read up more about it, you may read one of the detailed writeup here

  21. Profile photo of Vinayak Gondkar

    You did all right. You could have been at peace had you opted for video recording such meetings. Plain simple.

  22. Profile photo of Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal

    Thanks for your points. I’ve learnt a lesson and will never repeat my mistake while still playing my role 100%

  23. Profile photo of Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal

    Completely agreed and noted. Thanks. Thanks for your points. I’ve learnt a lesson and will never repeat my mistake while still playing my role 100%

  24. Profile photo of Amit Shroff

    Hi Alok,

    I would not like to get in to the picture until the situation become totally out of control and let my Sr HR person or Head of HR handle the situation, off-course keeping me in loop and doing as I would recommend based on suggestion received from the team.

    I would also give me a warning and would like to observe the difference. Would like to know why girls are allergic to him and what is bothering them.

    If I don’t be in picture and my HR handles it, the situation could be easily communicated to the employee and other staff.

    Regards,

    Amit

  25. Profile photo of Samir Dahotre

    Fortunately for him and you he didnt do anything. Like you said the police would say all is OK; but had he even attempted it; hospitalized etc.. the police might change their approach (due to pressure from his family)… and then there would be trouble.

    Anyway if possible while filing the police report 2 partners should file the FIR; share the situation

    No easy way out of this.

    But the great thing you did is rallying everyone’s support!

  26. Once you have investigated things and are fully certain that he is guilty, there is no question that the person should be fired. There can be no tolerance for this sort of behavior. However, how you go about removing the person is very critical and I feel there could be 2 approaches
    1. Totally Overboard – File a police complaint and terminate the person, clearly citing this as the reason for termination. Involve a proper lawyer in the process to ensure that the legalities are being totally followed. The process might not be simple and might require the women employees who were harassed and the company management to be questions by the Police etc. This might also mean that the man’s career is pretty much finished. Of course, he would have the right to appeal the case
    2. Totally Under the cover – Ask the man to provide a resignation letter citing personal reasons and he should request to be relieved immediately. The management should Accept the letter and send him out. For all practical purposes, he cannot later claim he was fired and there is no official mention of his action in writing. He resigned and the company merely accepted it.

    Thanks

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