Ethical Behaviour at End-of-Year Staff Parties

Moral behaviour consists of desisting from satisfying one’s reptilian desires and basic instincts at the expense of others.  Drunken lechers (and even the sober ones) flout this basic principle. 

by Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Ethical behaviour is acting in ways consistent with what society and individuals typically think are good values. Ethical behaviour tends to be good for business and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights ~ Business Dictionary 

( December 2, 2017, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) Starting every December, we enter a period when we must walk the line.  This year is a bit different and the line has got thinner.  On the one hand, over the past weeks there has been a proliferation of lecherous scumbags crawling out of the woodwork facing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of women in their past and present lives.  This opens our eyes to the peril lurking out there in the corporate world. On the other hand, we have begun what we in North America call the “Holiday Season” which heralds staff parties celebrating the end of year festivities of Christmas, Hanukkah and other religious festivals. For some of us it is a joyous event to celebrate with our colleagues (over a glass that cheers) the successful completion of another year of rewarding professional work.  For others, the party would be an excuse for getting drunk and giving way to their most devious reptilian instincts and obsessions at the expense of vulnerable female prey.

Employers must be particularly cautious during this time to ensure that the corporate parties they throw guarantee the safety of female employees at the hand of their fecklessly insouciant male peers. UN WOMEN – an entity of the United Nations which promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women – defines harassment as: “any improper and unwelcome conduct that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another person. Harassment may take the form of words, gestures or actions which tend to annoy, alarm, abuse, demean, intimidate, belittle, humiliate or embarrass another or which create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment”.

The need to ensure equitable, just and non-objectionable work conditions for employees is enshrined in Article 101 of the United Nations Charter which recognizes that: “The paramount consideration in the employment of the staff and in the determination of the conditions of service shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity”.   These fundamental values are further expanded in the United Nations Staff Rules which set out core values in staff regulation 1.2 (a) and staff rules 101.2 (d), 201.2 (d) and 301.3 (d) – that every staff member has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to work in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and abuse. Consequently, the Staff Rules prohibit any form of discrimination, harassment, including sexual harassment, and abuse of authority.

In 2005, The Secretary General of The United Nations established a self-administered learning programme entitled “Prevention of workplace harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of authority” for UN staff.  This Prgramme was developed jointly and in collaboration with the United Nations Development Group, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Office for Project Services and the World Food Programme. The learning programme was designed to raise awareness of the Organization’s zero tolerance of harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of authority; to provide guidance on the Organization’s policy and procedures on harassment; and to foster the creation of a harmonious working environment, free from intimidation, hostility, offence and any form of discrimination or retaliation.

An official bulletin, issued by the Secretary General of The United Nations in 2008 defines sexual harassment as: “ any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another, when such conduct interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. While typically involving a pattern of behaviour, it can take the form of a single incident. Sexual harassment may occur between persons of the opposite or same sex. Both males and females can be either the victims or the offenders”.

However, The United Nations can only do so much.  It is for individual countries to enact zero tolerance legislation against sexual harassment and abuse. The Canadian Human Rights Act in Section 14 (1) explicitly recognizes that sexual harassment is deemed to be harassment on a prohibited ground of discrimination. In Quebec where the author resides, The Labour Standards Act of 2002 emphatically states that every employee has the right to work in an environment free from psychological harassment, giving five criteria for conduct to be legally regarded  as psychological harassment: vexatious behaviour in the form of verbal comments, actions or gestures;  behaviour, comments, actions or gestures which are  hostile; behaviour, comments, actions or gestures that take place repeatedly; behaviour or conduct that adversely affects the employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity; and vexatious conduct that results in a harmful work environment for the employee. A single incidence of serious misconduct that has an ongoing harmful effect on the employee may be characterized as psychological harassment.

The 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant propounded his supreme morality theory which he called the Categorical Imperative. Kant called his moral philosophy that is enshrined in the Categorical Imperative “an objective, rationally necessary and unconditional principle that we must always follow despite any natural desires or inclinations we may have to the contrary”. Kant justified overall general moral turpitude within the parameters of this philosophy where all specific moral requirements are justified by this principle.  In other words, all immoral actions are despicable because they violate the Categorical Imperative.

Moral behaviour consists of desisting from satisfying one’s reptilian desires and basic instincts at the expense of others.  Drunken lechers (and even the sober ones) flout this basic principle.  A categorical moral imperative must be based on the common concepts of “duty” and “good will”.  Morality should be a harmonious blend of the elements of freedom and compulsion.  The compulsive element in this equation is what makes the limbic part (emotional part) of the human brain triumph over the reptilian part and let the cortex (the analytical part), in analyzing what is right and what is wrong, take over.  Happy holidays to everyone.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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