Sexual Harassment & The Role of Management

Sexual Harassment & The Role of Management

When I conduct sexual harassment training for various clients, I tend to focus on two subjects that are management-related: culture and retaliation. 

Cultivating an Office Culture

Culture is something that the business owners and managers get to control. They get to determine the kind of culture that will exist in the company — some are open and permissive, and others narrow and restricted. In the realm of sexual harassment, as we have learned from the Me Too movement, the matter of culture is of vital importance. Both management and ownership of the business have to take strong steps to establish a culture that allows people to:  

  1. Feel comfortable reporting any kind of discrimination, and
  2. Have zero tolerance amongst the employees for any type of discrimination, even without a referral up to management or ownership. 

When I talk about creating a culture that doesn’t allow poor behaviors to grow, it means that the employees believe in that culture. Having a team that resonates with that culture is an incredibly important and powerful mechanism for preventing harassment from happening in the first place. So, if you have a new employee that comes in and likes to tell the off-colored joke or two amidst a culture of employees that does not permit that type of behavior, those employees could feel comfortable taking them aside and expressing that the things they said are not ok and that their behavior is unacceptable. 

You inspire a culture where the employees are policing their own actions and helping management prevent many of these sexual harassment claim. 

Policing Retaliation in the Workplace 

Another concept I speak heavily on is retaliation. 

Retaliation remains one of the most common charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision. In fact, according to 2018 EEOC information, more than 50% of the charges filed had a retaliation claim.

Often after a claim is made there is a feeling that everything is tainted by that report, especially if management doesn’t take action and/or someone makes a claim against a senior or popular employee. Management must tread lightly. 

When you are dealing with a sexual harassment report, management and ownership must make a very concerted effort to ensure that no retaliation of any kind takes place. This is in truth a very difficult charge to address when an employee claims retaliation. I don’t mean the obvious retaliation actions that are related to pay — say demoting or moving an employee — those are easy to notice. What I am talking about is a cultural perception that has to be created that anyone who reports discrimination is protected — not protected from the consequences of doing a bad job, but protected from the consequences of that report. 

That means when a report is made, management and ownership has to take pains to make sure the individual that made the report is not subject to any action from management or ownership, and also police that employees are not retaliating or engaging in things such as shunning behaviors, derogatory comments, or social exclusion as a way to isolate the reporting employee. 

Retaliation is intertwined with the role of culture in the way employees can take a stand against unacceptable behaviors. 

When dealing with management, there are two main steps that have to be taken, both of which boil back to the fundamental question of what kind of culture are you going to have within your company in order to prevent and prohibit discrimination and harassment from happening in the first place, and then how all team members react when a report is made to avoid retaliation. Retaliation is a very subjective charge and not the easiest to prove, but it is one of the quick ways employees will get into hot water. 

Think your business could benefit from a sexual harassment training? Contact us today.