harassment

Did You Hear What They Said?

Another update from the Jungle…..

Peter and Paula have worked together for years and are best friends at work. Their friendship grew during the tough years, like taking pay cuts during the recession and working past midnight on New Year’s Eve to salvage the contract with a major client.

They’ve got each other’s backs. Paula covered for Peter when his drinking temporarily got the better of him. Peter lied to their boss about Paula’s frequent absences when she was devastated by the death of her cat. Co-workers rely on them for everything from problem solving to boosting morale. But there is a downside to Peter and Paula’s morale-boosting.

They boost morale by joking and clowning around which makes everyone laugh until it all slides over the invisible line into bad taste. The jokes are sometimes risqué and occasionally sleazy. The raunchier comments are aimed at each other, which is why co-workers haven’t complained. If Peter and Paula aren’t offended by their trash talking, why should others take offense?

The truth is that some of the other women make off color comments too. A few enjoy mild flirtations with Peter without any intention of going beyond words. It’s all a way to relieve the tedium of the daily routine.

But workplaces are constantly evolving as new workers are hired. The new employees don’t understand what Peter and Paula have done for the company which allows them to be occasionally sleazy and off color. Diane and Jane agree that Paula is a cheap tramp who sets back women’s equality every time she speaks. They also agree that Peter is a jerk.

Inevitably, a complaint about sexual harassment slides onto the desk of Sue, the HR manager. She’s heard a spate of these complaints lately and is feeling a bit burned out on the topic. But she’s also been warning Peter and Paula for years that they are skating on thin ice as far as the company’s HR policies are concerned. Now that an official complaint has been filed, Sue calls Peter and Paula to her office.

What options does Sue have?

  1. She can slap the taste out the mouths of Peter and Paula for ignoring her previous verbal warnings.
  2. She can recommend that one of them be transferred to a different department even though that will reduce efficiency in their current department.
  3. She can tell Peter and Paula to save their trash talking for after hours.

Workplace expectations are evolving rapidly regarding sexual harassment and what will be tolerated. Employers should take sexual harassment complaints seriously but not over-react.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Don’t Anyone Touch Anyone!

Another update from the Jungle…..

ABC Corp always seems to catch the latest trends late, thinks Karen. She’s the HR manager for her company and she’s watched for years as the news headlines play out at the office. Now she’s seeing an uptick in sexual harassment claims.

This morning before Karen could finish her first Diet Coke, Vanessa stopped by to complain that Hank had touched her inappropriately. Inappropriately how, asks Karen. Vanessa says that last week Hank patted her on the butt and since then he’s been looking at her in a suggestive way.

Karen sighs inwardly. Before the company switched to electronic records, Karen devoted a large, four-drawer file cabinet to Vanessa and Hank. Vanessa is always complaining about something. Hank has a reputation for saying things that others would leave unsaid often being a little too “friendly” with his hands.

Karen fortifies herself with a second Diet Coke and begins calling in Vanessa’s co-workers to find witnesses. Dorothy says she didn’t see any inappropriate touching but admits that she dislikes Vanessa and Hank and avoids them as if they have the plague. Amanda says that she dances a highland jig to stay out of range of Hank but generally considers him harmless.

Sue shrugs and says that Hank has patted her on the rear many times. When a project is successful, Hank often pats people on the back or the butt. She dismisses it because she thinks he’s just acting like the jock he was. When Sue tires of it, she kicks Hank in the shins, as she did with her older brothers when they were obnoxious. Dan and Joanne confirm Sue’s interpretation of Hank’s hands-on approach to thanking co-workers for a job well done.

Karen sighs deeply and reaches for another Diet Coke before she calls in Vanessa. She tells Vanessa that she believes Hank used poor judgment but it is unlikely that a claim of sexual harassment can be proved. She encourages Vanessa to tell Hank immediately to not touch her if he again pats her on the rear.

What other options does Karen have?

  1. She can institute a new HR policy that says no employee may touch another employee during business hours.
  2. She can encourage Vanessa to join a nudist colony to overcome her sensitivity about the human body.
  3. She can advise Hank to be less “friendly” since not everyone finds his behavior innocuous.

Context is so important. What one person may find offensive another may not. It’s important to take sexual harassment complaints seriously but to not over-react.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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3 Revisions For Your Sexual Harassment Policy

Another update from the Jungle…..

It’s amazing how quickly our social expectations are evolving on the topic of sexual harassment. Not so long ago, off color comments, body groping and other objectionable behavior was tolerated, particularly when committed by powerful people. All that is changing and employers need to adapt. Here are three suggested revisions for employers reviewing their sexual harassment policy and training.

Managerial Support

Every employer I worked for insisted on annual sexual harassment training for the staff. But most managers never showed up for the training or left early. That’s unfortunate, since the most common form of sexual harassment is still male bosses harassing women subordinates.

But accusing the boss of inappropriate behavior is the fastest path to ruining a woman’s career. That’s why Harvey Weinstein wasn’t publicly accused of sexual harassment until after he lost his status as a Hollywood power broker. Employers can avoid a Weinstein moment by requiring managers to participate in training and to set the example on what behavior is acceptable.

Realistic Training

One employer I worked for used the same training video year after year until employees stood in front of the screen, miming the actors and repeating the dialogue. The scenarios were blindingly obvious, like the woman who gets fired after refusing to date her boss. Everyone got their ticket punched for the yearly training and no one learned anything.

Training materials must include realistic scenarios of everyday occurrences. Training must also acknowledge that deciding what is harassment can be subjective. I once worked with a man who always spoke in double entendres. Most the women in the office claimed that they were outraged, but they continued flirting with him. Was he harassing them or not? That’s a much more realistic scenario than the boss dating his secretary cliché.

Clear Complaint Process

Deciding whether to complain begins with actually reading the relevant section of the employee handbook. The relevant section is usually buried in a long paragraph at the end of the anti-harassment policy section of the handbook. It may not be clear whether the complaint process applies to other situations, including the separate sexual harassment policy.

Assuming the harassed employee decides to make a complaint, she (or he) will immediately have two fears. What if the process requires reporting to your supervisor and that’s the harasser? How does the person complaining avoid retaliation? To be effective, the complaint process should be easy to read, have alternative paths for reporting a complaint, and ensure confidentiality as much as possible.

Our society is evolving.  Employers need to move quickly to adapt.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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See, What Happened Was…

Another update from the Jungle….

Lexington & Concord is a professional firm that hires summer interns every year. El Cee, as it’s fondly known, has a reputation for training summer interns by making them work long hours with minimal feedback on their performance. Interns are happy to suffer knowing that if they survive, they will increase their chances of receiving a good job offer.

Kate, the HR manager, thinks the summer interns should be rewarded for their hard work. She convinces Charles, the senior partner, to have an end of summer party for the interns. Charles reluctantly agrees.

The party is held at the home of Rob, a senior partner in the firm who likes to brag about his possessions.  Unfortunately, Rob and his wife, Sally, choose this day to enact their version of the War of the Roses.

The guests arrive in time to watch Sally yanking off her wedding ring and hurling it into the shrubbery. The members of the firm are used to the Rob and Sally soap opera and swerve around the fight with the ease of practice, headed for the drinks by the pool.

Kate quickly steers the interns to the outdoor kitchen and pool area. After asking several partners to chaperon the interns, she dashes away to break up the hosts’ fight before the neighbors call the cops.  She finds Sally sobbing hysterically, but Rob has vanished.

When Kate returns to the pool, she spies Rob propped against the shoulder of a young intern. As she approaches, Kate hears him making suggestions to the young lady that freeze the marrow in her HR bones.  Before the intern can respond, Kate grabs Rob’s elbow to drag him away. Unfortunately, he staggers against Kate. They both topple into the pool.

Several people dive in to rescue them.  Kate clambers out of the pool and looks around in horror. Her summer party is turning into a Roman orgy with half-naked people frolicking at poolside.

Now it’s Monday morning and Kate is in Charles’ office trying to explain what happened at the party. What should she say?

  1. She can say she’s resigning to start a new career as an event planner.
  2. She can imply that it’s Charles’ fault for not attending and using the force of his disapproval to keep everyone in line.
  3. She can promise to never again share her ideas for boosting morale.

In the actual situation, the firm banned parties for summer interns. HR professionals can help their companies by setting clear guidelines on behavior at company sponsored events.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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The Back Stabber

Another update from the Jungle….

backstabMarcella was happy to find a friend like Barry when she joined her new employer. He seemed like such a nice guy, interested in mentoring younger co-workers like her. Barry was a big help to her as she navigated the internal politics of her new employer.

Gradually over the months, Marcella talked about her children and she even gave Barry a few details about her messy divorce.   A female co-worker warned Marcella that Barry’s nice guy image was barely skin deep. Marcella dismissed the comments as sour grapes because the co-worker had been bounced from Barry’s team due to poor performance.

Then Marcella disagrees with Barry about how to solve a problem on their team project. Barry first tries to shame Marcella
in front of the other team members by explaining that he has so much more experience than her, his solution is the best. When Marcella refuses to back down, the matter escalates to their boss who agrees with Marcella’s solution to the problem.

A week later, the boss stops by Marcella’s office to ask if everything is okay at home. He assures her backthat she can have time off to go to court to deal with her son’s drug problem. Marcella’s shocked; her son doesn’t have a drug problem. Other co-workers stop by during the next few days to offer support.

Marcella remembers confiding to Barry several months ago that she was worried about some of her son’s friends. During that conversation she also said she was happy that her son’s school invited a community outreach police officer to talk to the students about the consequences of drug use. Marcella thinks that Barry twisted this information because he is mad about losing their disagreement on the team project.

What should Marcella do next?

  1. She can confront Barry to ask if he is the source of the rumor and then emulate Dolly Parton in “9 to 5” (threatening to change him from a rooster to a hen).
  2. She can complain to an HR representative but she has no proof Barry started the rumor and it’s not clear that any employee policy has actually been violated.
  3. She can avoid Barry as much as possible and never confide personal information to him again.

In the actual situation, the backstabbing employee eventually alienated so many employees that he became completely isolated. When the company downsized, he was the only employee not invited to join co-workers as they found new employers.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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