#MeToo – it’s more than just a hashtag in 2018. Every company and manager should see that hashtag as a warning of a critical topic. If you haven’t reviewed sexual harassment with your employees and specifically managers, you have left yourself and your company open to significant risk.
What is sexual harassment? Images from movies, TV or media often come to mind on this topic and are not always correct. Sexual harassment is any unwelcomed sexual advance, request for sexual favors and any conduct that creates a hostile work environment.
Sexual harassment appears in two different types. One is quid pro quo or this for that and the other is a hostile workplace.
Quid pro quo occurs when a manager offers something in return for something. An example of this is a manager offering a promotion in exchange for a date. Another example would be an employee getting a smaller bonus than their performance merits because they would not go out on a date with a manager. To be a quid pro quo situation there must be tangible action against the victim, this includes monetary loss, demotion or change in job.
A hostile work environment is exactly what it sounds like. Speech or conduct that is severe and/or pervasive enough to create an abusive or hostile work environment. This also includes suggestive items that may be placed in work areas, such as risqué calendars. These actions impact an individual’s ability to perform their job and, in many instances, even come to work. A hostile environment can be anything from inappropriate touching to jokes between employees to comments and posters. Anything that makes a work environment hostile for an individual.
Often when we think of these situations we automatically think male superior and female subordinates. While that certainly is a situation that occurs, it is important to remember sexual harassment can happen between a variety of ranks and genders. Sometimes, harassment isn’t even a manager or subordinate. It can be bystanders or people not even employed by the company such as customers, contractors or vendors. We must have a mindset of vigilance for a variety of situations.
When dealing with these situations, it is critical that all cases be reported to your company human resources department as soon as possible. When cases are reported or discovered they must be investigated. The most critical piece of a sexual harassment case is insuring that the victim is not the subject of any retaliation while an investigation is ongoing. Any disciplinary action taken against a victim must have all the required documentation associated with it.
The impact of sexual harassment is the potential for a company culture to become infected. This infection will impact the quality of employees and customers that a company may have. Ultimately the company will be held accountable and may have judgments against it. In Fiscal Year 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission resolved 12,860 sexual harassment cases and recovered $40.7 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).
One of the primary ways a company can avoid being held legally liable is an education program. By demonstrating that the company takes these issues seriously and educating a workforce is a priority and the No. 1 way the company can protect itself.
As you can see, there are multiple reasons to take sexual harassment seriously, from the well-being of your employees to company culture to company bottom line. If you have not planned on delivering this training to your staff, please consider doing so. In this heightened environment there is no excuse to put you, your company and your staff at risk.
Rob Dibble is a learning professional with more than 15 years of corporate learning experience and owner of Ace Learning and Consulting.