Q: I received an anonymous tip that one of our employees had been taking inappropriate photos of women in the office and storing them on his work laptop. I notified the director of HR, who reports to me, and we had his laptop confiscated and searched while he was put on leave. Confronted with the photos, he resigned. It was an extremely unpleasant experience for the female managers who had to supervise the investigation, especially because they appeared in the photos. What can we do to prevent a similar issue from recurring?
A: Just getting rid of this one office evildoer won’t solve your problem. Clearly this employee not only thought he could act with impunity, but also managed to get away with it until someone found him out.
You need stricter and more comprehensive policies that outline what employees can and cannot do in the workplace, says Miguel Ariño, a professor at IESE Business School in Navarra, Spain.
First, he said in an email, look at the procedures you have in place now to keep employees safe. Make sure that areas where employees expect privacy — company restrooms or locker rooms, for instance — are completely secure, so that your workers don’t have to worry about spies or hidden cameras.
Ariño recommends you go further: “The company needs to have a clearly articulated policy that conveys unequivocally what constitutes and does not constitute appropriate behaviour in the workplace,” he said. “Without clearly stated principles and boundaries about what will or will not be tolerated in worker conduct, employees will behave in the way they prefer.”
The first people to adhere to this policy should be the CEO and the senior managers. Employees will notice what you do more than what you say. Remember “monkey see, monkey do?” It’s as true in the workplace as it was in kindergarten.
Employees need to know about your workplace-conduct policy from their first day on the job, so make it a part of new-employee training. If you're introducing the policy now, hold a town-hall meeting to explain it to your current team, and encourage them to ask questions.
To make sure your policies are a success and support your firm’s mission, it’s crucial to have the right people on your staff. That means you have a recruiting challenge.
Assessing candidates before hiring them is crucial, Ariño said. “The recruiter and hiring manager should be thinking: ‘Can this job candidate fit with the culture of the company? Are there any signs in the candidate and his/her background and demeanour that might indicate otherwise?’” You may have a hard time determining these qualities in the interview, so be sure to have procedures that include thorough background and reference checks for candidates.
Make sure you’re paying attention to any red flags. You don’t want to have another situation where your new hire runs afoul of workplace policies and common decency. That would definitely lead to a crisis of confidence in your leadership — and could potentially make your company vulnerable to lawsuits from the victimised employees over a breach of privacy.
Work Ethic is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the ethical and interpersonal dilemmas that workers face around the world. We welcome knotty questions from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.