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Harassment Reporting Apps and HR

Workplace harassment, especially sexual in nature, is a hot topic and has been since the start of the #MeToo movement. According to the Telegraph, in a 2017 ComRes poll, unwanted sexual behaviour at work was reported by 40% of women and 19% of men. And given the Twitter beginnings of #MeToo, maybe it’s not surprising that other technologies are being brought to bear. In this case, apps that help employees report harassment.

What exactly is a harassment reporting app?

Basically, what it says on the tin: an easy method to notify an employer (usually via HR) of unwanted behaviour in the workplace. Depending on the app, that notification may be anonymous, go straight to an investigator, and be part of the official record.

From an employee point of view, workers are getting used to using tech to clock in and out, book holidays, and check their payslip online, not to mention the virtually global adoption of apps for all purposes, and it certainly seems a logical (and predictable) step.

The pros

As already mentioned, most people in the UK workforce are at least familiar with the idea of communications and transactions conducted via a mobile app. That familiarity may make the reporting of an incident just a tiny bit easier, and anything that makes speaking up about harassment easier is a bonus.

The anonymous reporting used by some apps offers a bit of protection to complainants and whistle-blowers who might need it. A common reaction to being accused of harassment is to try to dissuade the complainant from saying anything further (potentially, more harassment, in other words) and anonymity offers some protection on this point.

The cons

One obvious result of making it easier to make a complaint is that the number of complaints is likely to go up - for some people reluctant to report an incident through conventional channels, an app may make the difference. Whoever handles your HR needs to be able to deal with a potential spike in complaints.

The flipside to the anonymity point above is that not knowing the complainant’s identity, an investigator cannot seek further information or ask additional questions. It also potentially opens the door to frivolous or malicious accusations – these are far less common than some would have you believe but it is a risk.

Another issue to consider is the data collected by the app. Given its sensitive nature, you need to be sure that it is being stored securely. In fact, such apps are still new and effectively in a trial period and the implications are still emerging; for example, an employee accused of harassment may have the right to request that the data stored by the app is deleted. And one final obvious point… if you introduce one of these apps, you need to have a solid procedure in place for dealing with harassment claims fairly. For guidance and a template procedure, ACAS is a UK benchmark.

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