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In inspirational news, the UN’s work and labor agency, the International Labor Organization or ILO, adopted a “Violence and Harassment Convention” and “Violence and Harassment Recommendation” at the Centenary International Labor Conference in Geneva last month.

What’s changing?

In response to findings of many gaps in legal protections, the Convention’s purpose is to broaden protections from behaviors, practices or threats that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm and gender-based violence which can constitute “a human rights violation or abuse” and “a threat to equal opportunities.”

Significantly, the Convention is intended to expand national laws to broaden:

  • The categories of workers protected to everyone who works, regardless of status and includes volunteers, job seekers/applicants, persons in training, interns, apprentices, and terminated workers as well as individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer; and
  • Where workplace harassment and violence can take place to include places where a worker is paid, takes a rest/meal break, or uses sanitary, washing or changing facilities; during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities; work-related communications (including through information and communication technologies), in employer-provided accommodation; and when commuting to and from work.

It also recognizes that violence and harassment may involve third parties.

When is the Convention in force?

The Convention enters into force 12 months after two member states have ratified it. The Recommendation is not legally binding but provides guidelines on applying the Convention.

What this means for your organization

Member states that ratify the Convention will need to implement sufficiently broad laws and complaint and enforcement mechanisms, including to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation. The Convention requires that each member state “adopt laws, regulations and policies” to:

  • Define and prohibit violence and harassment (including gender based) in the world of work; and
  • Ensure the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation, including for women workers, and other persons belonging to vulnerable groups or groups in situations of vulnerability that are disproportionately affected by violence and harassment in the world of work

On the heels of the global #metoo movement, the Convention is yet another signal to employers to implement robust policies, procedures and trainings to combat harassment and workplace violence and promote zero tolerance.

Multinational employers should holistically consider not only the requirements of the country where they are headquartered but also local sensitivities and the global nature of today’s workplace interactions (think regional or global meetings/events, communications and productivity technology, etc.) against the Convention’s broadening of who is protected and where they are protected when re-evaluating existing measures and implementing new measures to combat harassment in the workplace on a global scale. This includes re-evaluating the adequacy and local law compliance of existing complaint and reporting procedures and global whistleblower/ethics hotlines.