Ethical Dilemmas for Human Resource Professionals in Handling Sexual Harassment at Workplaces: Cases from Sri Lanka

Kanishka Paternott, Arosha S. Adikaram


The aim of this article is to explore the ethical dilemmas faced by Human Resource (HR) professionals when handling sexual harassment in organizations, using a multidimensional framework suggested by Kevin Wooten for studying Human Resource Management (HRM) ethics. Employing a qualitative research approach, HR professionals of 10 Sri Lankan companies operating in different industries were selected for the study using a purposive sampling technique. Data was collected through in-depth interviews and documents. The nature of ethical dilemmas faced by HR professionals (such as misrepresentation and collussion, misuse of data , manipulation and collusion, value and goals conflict and technical ineptness), when handling sexual harassment in organizations within an HRM environment, which is greatly influenced by the legislative/regulatory climate, demographic trends and social climate with organizational, personal and professional ethics overlapping and intersecting in different ways and instances, was revealed . The main areas under sexual harassment that give rise to these ethical dilemmas were identified as; 1) handling complaints without proper evidence and failing to ensure the truthfulness of data 2) handling complaints against key persons, 3) managing tempting behaviours at workplaces in order to prevent sexual harassment occurrences, 4) unawareness about the issue of sexual harassment at workplaces, and 5) the inability to ensure complete confidentiality. Further, the study also explores environmental influences and other competing ethical considerations which influence the occurrence of these ethical dilemmas.


Keywords: Ethical Dilemmas, HR Professionals, Sexual Harassment, Ethical Environment of HR Professionals