Bernie Althofer AFAIM, who we quoted in brief yesterday, is a former Harassment Referral Officer in a police service in Australia.  We have been hoping for active feedback and discussion on our positing the applicability of the "Broken Windows Theory" to workplace sexual harassment (if at all), and Bernie was kind enough to giive us his thoughts, which we believe can be very useful to employers and HR professionals.  We print it below in full, and have underlined passages that we think are significant.   


"In practice, both Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance depend on 100% commitment at all levels of an organisation. Unfortunately, having been a Harassment Referral Officer in a police service, I have seen and heard of situations where ‘mate’s rates’ apply, e.g., favouritism and nepotism.

If zero tolerance is to work, it means that workplace standards have to be set and documented and applied fairly, justly and equitably across all levels – no excuses because the alleged offender is a colleague of a senior employee. Employees see inconsistencies in how others are treated and then complain about how the system does not work.

From my perspective, there seems to be an increasing trend to provide online training as the primary delivery method. It seems from some current discussions, that interactive training will provide participants the opportunity to test their understanding and knowledge of the various policies and procedures, allow them to participate in role plays and quizzes, and perhaps provide an organisation with an increased capacity to defend claims.

Following a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of corruption, the police service adopted a community policing approach and in my role at the time, I was required to ‘read up’ on various community policing models. In my Master of Arts (Justice Studies), I wrote and presented on zero tolerance and Broken Windows. At the time, I questioned whether or not there was broader application. I think that organisations do need to look outside the square when it comes to being proactive and taking a preventive approach.

I think that whilst there are distinct advantages in both approaches, selling the message might be more difficult. I understand that there may be some differences in our workplaces and cultures regarding what is seen as acceptable, e.g., if people can get away with it they will, and some people still find pulling people into line for crossing the line when it comes to sexual harassment a bit too hard or want to write it off  as ‘a bit of harmless fun’. There is a Member of Parliament who has found himself subjected to media scrutiny in relation to a number allegations involving sexually harassing comments made to various staff before he became an MP.

I am also aware of an organisation where female employees had been subjected to sexual harassment, and training was recommended. A senior executive attended to open the training, and his opening words were "Good morning b.tches" (and he said it with a smile on his face). The training provider asked my advice on what they should have done, and I told them that I would have said "Thank you for those comments. I am now terminating this workshop and I will be reporting your conduct to the CEO".

I think that over a period of time, there will be some interesting comments and observations made about both Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance. In the past, there have been discussions on zero tolerance with feedback suggesting that this would mean an offender would be automatically dismissed for even minor transgressions."