This notice concerns the way I was treated by management [of a multinational pharmaceutical company in two countries] after I reported sexual harassment from my leader. I was subjected to extensive reprisals and three months after the notice I was called to a meeting with management. I was not informed of the meeting agenda in advance.
Subjected to pressure and lies to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) Meeting in 2009 I was deprived of work duties: The Business Unit Manager began the meeting by saying that I could not continue at the [specific] department. The trial scheme by which I reported to her was not working optimally as she was unable to follow up on me in the way that she should. They also say that it is not good for me to work in the same team as the manager who subjected me to harassment.
No other options in the company: HR then goes on to say that the company has searched hard to find other roles for me but unfortunately there are none. He says he also investigated my options to take on the particular Key Manager position that I had applied for. Unfortunately, due to strong external candidates, my prospects did not look bright there either (translation of verbatim quote). I had applied for the positions which had been advertised there since October. A non- disclosure agreement (NDA) was put on the table with an exceptionally short deadline I had to respond by [deadline]. If I did not respond before then, the company would not guarantee the contents of any new NDA. The management did not write a report from either this or the other meeting with me.
From the pressure I broke down in tears and had difficulty collecting myself again. It was difficult for me to make my way from the meeting room to the car park, meeting my colleagues in the hall. Between then and the following Monday, I contacted the general manager, Business Unit Director and HR and asked them to find another solution. I was simply referred to the NDA and the deadline. All doors closed!
My choice was between staying at the company with no duties or future prospects or signing the NDA. Ultimately, I signed the NDA against my will. Lies: Two days later I was called by the recruitment agency and it was confirmed to me that I was still a candidate for the particular Key Management position. I have it in writing from both the hiring manager in the company and the recruitment agency that HR never contacted them regarding my prospects for that position. In reality, it was an unjustified dismissal hidden in an NDA.
Sexual harassment is an abuse of power, as are NDAs imposed on women who speak up about this unhealthy culture. I refuse this treatment and break the NDA. Senior management should be a role model by visibly demonstrating support. I sought help via Integrity line to report misconduct by the management in [the country where I was mistreated]. Besides a brief phone call with a compliance officer none have shown interest in my version. What is the value and credibility of the Integrity line, when Human Resources doing an in-depth investigation, only contact the management who the complaint concerned?
As a whistleblower, I was ignored every time I contacted the company and got neither insight into the investigations nor the opportunity to defend myself. I was treated like a person of no value. The management continued the harassment. … I submit that the manner in which senior management referred to me during the investigation of this case is sexually demeaning and in that sense I submit that I was subjected to sexual harassment. The company was very much aware of the statement made by my leader. This statement was included in my initial report/complaint. During our conversation relating to the redundancy, my leader started laughing whilst explaining that he had observed a few phallic-looking mushrooms for which I could simply lower myself onto. This version is the correct version and is supported by a written statement by my doctor, whom I met immediately after my leader’s statement.
The company characterises first this statement as unwanted sexual attention using the same definition as used by the preparatory legislative works relating to sexual harassment. This states that in defining sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual attention one avoids that the offending party exonerates himself in stating that he did not perceive the action as harassment. Sexual harassment by management, the company states in its notice of response that [the person] has a humour that may be characterised as being a bit suggestive. The company further describes that even though the conversation was serious and related to a redundancy process [attempts were made to] cheer up [the person]. In its account to the equality and anti-discrimination ombudsman the company summarises that at a certain level, there must also be acceptance in the workplace for careless remarks without it breaching the Act in the legal sense. The company claims that I was a person who could give and receive such light-heartedness. The company further confirms this perception of me in a statement to the ombudsman stating that as far as [the person] is concerned, he did not mean to offend me and he maintains that the light-heartedness between [the person] and him were of such nature. … In other words, the company is of the opinion that I am a person who will accept such crude statements. This is despite the fact that I have put forward a formal complaint about an issue that the company also determines as sexual harassment. As such I feel that the company is further continuing a behaviour I believe to be sexually harassing by repeating the impression my manager initially gave about me. This is to ridicule the grounds for my public complaint/report and exposes a complete lack of respect of my boundaries.
With such an attitude to sexual harassment I can see why so few … formally report behaviour of this kind. The company obviously feel that such comments should be acceptable in the work place and that an employee should allow for this kind of behaviour. The fact that I subsequently reported this behaviour means that I am subjected to the company’s repeated characterisation of myself as a person who will accept such light-heartedness. This attitude by the company can hardly be said to be in line with zero-tolerance to sexual harassment. The concept of zero-tolerance is an absolute and is equally applied. The company management cannot subsequently determine who shall benefit from this concept and who should accept such behaviour. Company management should regardless hold itself above such behaviour. They have a duty in accordance with local employment legislation to ensure that sexual harassment in the workplace does not occur. That the statements made about me stem from company management are undisputed and the lawyer’s letter to the ombudsman says company management more or less, shifts the blame for my managers lack of ethical behaviour to me. This kind of behaviour on the part of management only compounds their disregard of whistleblowing in relation to sexual harassment.
When the whistleblower is counteracted, loses their job and even suffers harassment from management, the problem is more substantial than a manager who steps over the line. It becomes an issue of culture. To me it seems as if this negative culture permeates GSK in its entirety, from senior management down, given that senior management accepts this treatment of a whistleblower. A large number of managers and executives were informed about this case.
After ten years as an employee of the company, I received an employment reference from the manager who harassed me. It states that I left my job on my own initiative and that he gives me his best recommendations. This action proves that the harasser is allowed to continue his career and has the management’s confidence to execute personnel responsibilities, and that I who notified this behaviour was fired. I have taken my case to the ombudsman. They state that they understood that I did not want an NDA, but that the NDA is a way for the company to solve a difficult problem. In court the company claims that the NDA is an obstacle to making claims for compensation. The company states that by entering into the NDA, the right to subsequently claim that there has been a breach of the relevant Act has been waived, and so too has the basis for making a claim for compensation. The NDA made me totally lawless.
My greatest wish now is to move on with my life. I have been all alone in this case and it has left its mark on me. People who are harassed become anxious about the assumption that the world is a good place to be, and that the world is meaningful and fair. Loss of dignity causes physical pain. I feel it all the time, day and night. I hope you can help me to get light on this story in the media. My hope is that also the country where I was harassed will be woken to the misuse of NDAs. I have written letters to different departments in the government - but the answers is, for the time, negative to regulate misuse of NDA. The entire proceedings have been in writing and I have all documentation available. These documents show clearly how I have been treated. As elsewhere in the pharmaceutical sector, it is important to be 100% transparent.