We all know the term and we even hear the term thrown around facetiously from time to time. But the entire working spectrum from owners to management to employees needs to understand what sexual harassment is and why it’s a problem. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
This definition seems to draw a fine line that, hopefully, none of us have to worry about crossing. But, there are a few misconceptions that don’t make the matter as black and white as it may initially sound. A few rules that we should all know about are:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be either a woman or a man.
- The victim of sexual harassment does not have to be of the opposite sex of the harasser.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but could be anyone adversely affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome in order to constitute sexual harassment.
To prepare you and your organization proactively, make sure that you have clearly stated your policies on sexual harassment in the workplace. Overstate it if you have to, just make sure to cover all the angles.
Don’t know if you’ve covered it all or if you need to be more specific? HRInsights can help… join our webinar to find out if you have everything in your sexual harassment policy that you need.
This Week’s HRI “Lightbulb” – Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is a time for amour and passion with your love dove, AND it is also a great time for small business owners and managers to remember to reiterate the company’s policy on sexual harassment. It is good HR practice to remind employees about this important issue once a year. Don’t forget to have them sign acknowledgement forms. And, HRInsights says if you have the meeting on this “love”ly day, you may want to skip the wine, but chocolates would be nice!
Regardless of who said this, who said that, the truth, the history and the outcome of the Herman Cain scandal in the daily news! Politics again brings up the very serious topic of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Does your company have a well-communicated process to handle sexual harassment complaints? If not, your business is potentially facing a costly liability. Take the case of …
Sheriff v. Midwest Health Partners, P.C., 8th Circuit Court No. 09-3367, August 30, 2010
“An employer’s failure to keep a female employee apprised of its response to her complaints of sexual harassment, and its further failure to follow through on remedial actions could lead a reasonable jury to find that the employer did not take the complaints seriously. Such failures form the basis of a recent decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which the Court denied an employer’s post-trial motion regarding a $100,000 jury verdict.”
A Sexual Harassment Policy should be stated clearly in company’s Employee Handbook. And, there should be a signed document from each employee acknowledging that they have read AND understood the policy. No excuses!
“In the workplace, sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual or sex-based conduct – such as unwanted touching, pressure for dates, or offensive remarks – that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment and interfere with the victim’s ability to perform her job. Sexual harassment can also include conditioning an employment or educational opportunity on the victim’s submission to requests for sexual favors.”
Provide a work environment that fosters teamwork and where everyone can reach their full potential, and also be prepared to protect that environment!
The news this week was quite shocking about Mark Hurd’s dismissal at HP. There are many complicated factors circulating and polarized perspectives. Hurd’s success at HP is now under debate ranging from great operating performance in complex times to being keenly disliked at the company. Even the reasons for the dismissal are somewhat cloudy – ranging in extremes from a sexual harassment cause to expense reporting issues. The latter issue, though a small amount, could not be tolerated unless the organization intended to just “wink” at any minor false reporting making it justifiable throughout the organization.
Regardless of Hurd’s guilt or innocence, the issue of intra-company relationships can have major legal and organizational implications. Morality can’t be legislated, but the implications of an inter-office relationship can be enormous.
I recall a situation where a senior executive was being replaced in a high profile position. Both attended a dinner discussing transition which included a confidential and honest sharing of the working style, good and bad, of the new person’s new boss. A few months later, the leaving person learned that his replacement and her boss were having an affair. Though this situation never resulted in a suit or public accusations, it caused embarrassment and suspicion on the part of the executive who left the position and who began to question the motivation for the change.
Organizational dynamics and biases cannot help but being impacted by an office affair. The organization’s entire team will be effected as rumors circulate, mostly questioning trust, the foundation of any organization’s success. Without confidence that an organization will be run without obvious biases in an affair, a team begins to lose effectiveness and that affects shareholders and performance.
Photo courtesy of Valleywag
I had some time in between meetings the other day so I stopped by my local Panera Bread restaurant to pass the time. While I sat in the restaurant enjoying my soup and iced tea, I couldn’t help but overhear a store manager conducting a new hire orientation. This was my lucky day. I had picked the front row seat! There was the customary stack of papers that needed to be filled out, but what caught my attention was the communication between the manager and new employee regarding the company’s sexual harassment policy.
The manager told the new employee that she should just sign the policy and read it later. He said, “It is our sexual harassment policy that says that we don’t do that here.” I am pretty sure it said more than that. One thing is for sure, the manager should have said more to the employee about it. He brushed it off as if it was an unimportant formality and not a big deal.
This is one of the most important policies for any company. If only the manager would have spent just two more minutes on this topic, he would have set some key expectations for the employee and for the entire work environment.
Every company should have a basic sexual harassment policy which is reviewed in EVERY new hire orientation. Just spend a couple of extra minutes and it will be meaningful. If I had to make three quick summary statements, here is what I would say to new hires:
1. Our company doesn’t tolerate any harassment of any kind in our workplace. This includes harassment of a sexual nature.
2. If you experience or witness any harassment, please bring it to management or HR.
3. You will not experience any retaliation for bringing valid harassment issues to the attention of the appropriate members of management.
Watching and listening to this orientation made me realize that so many managers just go through the motions. They obviously don’t realize the impact they have in setting expectations for new employees and the entire workplace. Setting expectations begins on “day one” for new employees.