Review confirms sexual harassment, lack of support at Human Rights Commission

A Ministerial review has confirmed there was sexual harassment at the Human Rights Commission and there were poor response systems and failure to provide proper support. there are =reports that a ‘clear -out’ of the Commission seems likely.

Justice Minister Andrew Little…

…today released the Ministerial Review of the Human Rights Commission in relation to the internal handling of sexual harassment claims and its organisational culture.

“I acknowledge the work conducted by retired Judge Coral Shaw. Her findings reveal a system that failed to provide proper care and support for sexual harassment claims made by staff.

“The main conclusions reveal:

  • Some sexual harassment occurred within the HRC but was not prevalent or endemic
  • The Dignity at Work policy used to investigate the October 2017 incident was aged and outdated
  • The HRC has recently improved its systems and processes for dealing with sexual harassment complaints by adopting a new Prevention and Response to Sexual Harassment 2017 policy, but it was formulated without full consultation with the HRC employees

“In relation to the governance and management structures and arrangements of the HRC it’s a concern that the review found:

  • Staff members’ lack of information and trust in management to deal appropriately with their complaints is a potential impediment to the successful implementation of the Prevention and Response to Sexual harassment 2017 policy.
  • There is a deep divide between some staff and some managers and a lack of trust in the management and the Commissioners among some staff.
  • Strategic leadership by the current Board is compromised by a lack of cooperation and communication between Commissioners and between Commissioners and the Chief Executive.

“I announced the review of the procedures and organisational culture at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, following recent concerns about the handling of allegations of sexual harassment.

“It is vital that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the Human Rights Commission as New Zealand’s authority for dealing with complaints about sexual harassment.

“I am currently awaiting advice form the Ministry of Justice. I will also meet with the State Services Commission today to discuss the next steps to fulfil the report’s recommendations. I have spoken to all Commissioners and the CEO, and I will now deal with the question of Commissioner appointments, as a matter of priority,” says Andrew Little.

Click here to read the report

Newsroom: Changes likely at ‘toxic’ Human Rights Commission

A damning review into the culture of the Human Rights Commission has uncovered outdated sexual harassment policies,highly dysfunctional leadership and commissioners “barely communicating with each other”.

A clear-out of the Commission seems likely, with Chief Commissioner David Rutherford – singled out for some of the organisation’s problems – already confirming he will not seek reappointment.

A history of dysfunction

The review also uncovered “deep-seated personality clashes”, with some managers afraid of raising serious complaints against board members despite their concerns.

Former and current commissioners suggested the problems were not unprecedented, detailing dysfunction going back “many years” under previous commissioners.

However, the relationship between Rutherford and his colleagues had been described as problematic since he took on the role in 2011, with other commissioners critical of his communication style.

Rutherford told Newsroom the Commission’s board had accepted all of the recommendations from the report, which was “confronting to read”.

“The key thing is that we acknowledge we have to work together to get policies that make it safer for, or people feel safer to raise issues and complaints, that’s the issue.”

Rutherford said he took responsibility for all the issues raised in the report as chief commissioner, including the concerns raised about his communication.

“As regards my own leadership style, that’s something that you constantly have to think about and adjust as you go through life and I’ve done that…

“The real point at the moment now is to look forward – we accept that there are issues as raised by the judge and we need to work better as a team.”

He confirmed he would not be seeking reappointment to his role, but said he was committed to improving the organisation before his departure.

The Commission certainly needs a change of management and change of culture.