A Global Stage for HR’s Perspective on Workplace Harassment


People and workplace issues are global and, increasingly, so is the business of HR. Around the world, workplace policy is increasingly influenced by governments, employers and workers at the international level. I just returned from the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland where I was a member of the delegation sent by the United States to develop a new United Nations (UN) convention on violence and harassment in the workplace.

The ILC is an annual meeting hosted by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO). Uniquely, the ILC brings together delegations made up of government, employers and workers from each member country and gives an equal voice to all three groups to ensure that all views are reflected in the labor standards the ILO adopts through consensus. This was the fourth year in a row that SHRM was invited to serve as an employer representative on the U.S. delegation by the U.S. Council for International Business.

This was a fascinating opportunity to see, from a global perspective, an issue that has been front and center for HR. In light of the #MeToo movement and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s focus on workplace harassment, SHRM and our President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, have focused on the importance of workplace culture. So, it was a great privilege to represent American employers alongside the ILO’s 187-member countries, each with different laws and variations in cultural expectations about violence and harassment at work.

This year’s meeting centered on the creation of a convention—a legally binding treaty—that each country must consider and ratify for it to become mandatory in that country. If finalized, this convention would be accompanied by a recommendation providing more detailed guidelines on how its principles could be applied in individual ratifying countries. Discussions will be finalized in 2019 to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the ILO.

So, what are my take-aways after days of intense conversations with employer, worker and government representatives from around the globe?

  1. Employers everywhere face similar challenges. In conversations about violence and harassment, the employer group was focused on the scope of the convention to ensure it doesn’t impose obligations on employers that they cannot meet. Although employers from every country shared a commitment to sustain workplaces free of violence and harassment, they recognized the need to ensure that employers can comply with the measures.
  1. Even when there are many areas of agreement between employers, workers, and governments, consensus can be difficult. Employers went into the meeting ready to prevent, and address the issues of, violence and harassment in the workplace. However, the worker group pushed expansive definitions of areas where employers need to provide protection, to include work commutes on public transportation and protections for laid-off workers. Likewise, a combined definition of “violence and harassment” is in danger of muddling understanding of the types of behaviors that employers would be obligated to address. The discussion at next year’s ILC will require re-visiting the scope of convention.
  1. If you are not at the table, you’ll be on the menu. Despite these frustrations, there were many areas of agreement, and many of the governments started to understand that they are also employers!  In our final statement, the employer group stressed the need to re-visit the definitions in next year’s discussion, to separately define violence and harassment and clearly delineate the obligations of employers.

Right now, I am in Chicago for the SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition, which attracted more than 1,400 international attendees this year, breaking all records. SHRM is becoming a leading global voice and influencer on all matters work, including public policy, and I am encouraged that our positions on, and solutions for, healthy workplace cultures are having an impact on governments and workplaces across the world.



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