Effectively Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Do the Blocking and Tackling

Since sexual harassment is currently such a big issue these days, I’m going to talk about the tools I’ve effectively developed and used over the years.  I’m writing this in November of 2017 and you can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read anything online without learning about some high profile politician, media personality, or famous celebrity being accused of some form of sexual harassment.

What frustrates me is how it has become such a “popular” thing to expose all of a sudden.  If we are being honest with ourselves, we all already knew this kind of behavior has been going on for years but nobody ever did anything about it.  At the highest level possible, we had a two term President in the 90’s who we all knew engaged in it.  And we now have a current President who was recorded bragging about it before winning the election. We also all knew about the infamous “casting couch” in Hollywood which has been around since the 1920s and probably even earlier. 

I’m frustrated that our society tolerated it for so long.

It’s about time that women are finally feeling comfortable about coming forward with their stories of harassment. There is no place for sexual harassment in our workplace and private lives. Never has been and never will be.

While all of the stories, so far, have been from women, and I fully recognize that most of the victims are going to be women,  I’m waiting to hear some men start coming forward telling their stories of how they were harassed – it happens to all genders, in every industry, in every socioeconomic status, etc.

In fact, two of my three biggest sexual harassment investigations were with women as the instigators.  So I know it’s only a matter of time before we hear about a woman politician, media personality, or celebrity harassing a subordinate. Let’s not forget how many female teachers, a female dominated profession, are being caught having sex with their male underage students. So it cuts both ways. Both men and women can be deviant creeps.

So how do we stop sexual harassment?  I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how the old traditional ways of dealing with it – an up-to-date policy, training, and investigate quickly and fairly to all complaints – no longer work.  That we must do something different to put an end to it, things like promoting more women and  implementing predictive analytics!

There is no easy solution and, sadly, no matter what we do, sexual harassment will never end.  It is, unfortunately, part of human nature.  Harassment, sexual and other types, have been around since the beginning of time and will be around until the end of time.

The only way to deal with it from an HR standpoint, in my opinion and experience, is to effectively and consistently do the basic blocking and tackling of having a strong and updated policy, conduct training annually and during onboarding, and conducting quick and fair investigations.  

I’ve had a lot of experience handling sexual harassment complaints and investigations.  And I can say that by effectively executing the basics I listed above is the best way of slowing it down and keeping it under control.  It creates a culture that clearly demonstrates that sexual harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and will be quickly addressed.

I have three steps of a Harassment Policy process that I find work best.

First, during onboarding,while reviewing the employee handbook, I stress that there is no tolerance of sexual or any other type of harassment  in our workplace.

When setting up the employee handbook, I make sure the policy is the first one listed so as to emphasize it’s importance. I also make sure I review it, along with our legal council and/or an employment lawyer, at least once every two years (I would do it right now regardless of when it was done earlier because of the current high profile cases in the media) to ensure it’s up to date. It’s also good to make sure the policy is written in plain english, not in legal handbookese that nobody understands.

Make sure each employee’s signee Acknowledgement of Receipt is in their file so there’s evidence that you reviewed the important policies with them.

Second, later in the onboarding schedule, I have a Harassment Training  session.  I will conduct either a live presentation or show them a video depending on the size of the onboarding class. I have two compliance trainings during onboarding, Harassment Prevention and Drug and Alcohol Prevention, and this again emphasizes the importance of our policy by putting such a primary focus on it during their onboarding.

I also have two mandatory annual all-hands Harassment Prevention training sessions, one for the general employee population and one for the supervisors and managers. I require managers and supervisors to attend the general employee population session so they are seen by all employees to be part of and fully supportive of the process. This also emphasizes to the managers the importance of the policy.

Each of these training sessions has a quiz that I require each employee to take and turn in after we review the answers. This gives you a document for their file that they’ve attended the training session and interacted by taking the quiz. Also make sure the employees sign an attendance sheet and file those sheets with your training materials.

Third and finally, when a complaint is received, I immediately jump into action and start an investigation. I once drove five hours from my office in Denver, CO to a remote location in central Wyoming the same day I received a complaint and immediately started the investigation. I stayed there for two days to interview people, have discussions with management, decide on proper corrective action, communicate our conclusion to affected employees, and conclude the investigation.

I then write up a final report documenting the process of my investigation, who I spoke to and what was said, my conversations with management, and the results of the final decision and corrective action taken.  This document goes into the accused’s file and I like to have a copy in a separate investigation file with other investigations I conducted.  

As you can see, I will always drop what I’m doing and immediately start an investigation when I get a harassment complaint because harassment is the most toxic workplace situation. It creates all sorts of serious legal, morale, productivity, ethical, safety, and many other similar problems. Problems that I can head off if I address the complaint immediately.

While it’s important to keep the investigation as confidential as possible while on site, we all know that the grapevine will communicate why you’re there and what you are doing.  Employees will see the corrective action and understand why.

This final step of a quick and fair investigation followed by the appropriate corrective action, if warranted, sends the strongest message possible to employees that harassment is not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly. And it only really takes one or two instances to send a clear message and make a positive impact on the culture.

Now, remember, these steps will not completely eliminate harassment but they will go a long way in significantly reducing it to the point there will only be a few cases.  

But you have to do the day in and day out blocking and tackling consistently in order to minimize harassment and keep your company culture one that makes it clear it’s not tolerated.

Workplace Harassment and Bullying at My Old High School

 

NCHS Staff meeting “Welcome Back” skit

You would think high school teachers and administrators, of all people, would know better!  You would also think a relatively large school district would do much better with the anti harassment and anti bullying training for their staff.

In my hometown of Casper, WY, at my high school alma mater, Natrona County High School,  there has been an ongoing controversy over a recent skit that was performed welcoming back school staff and introducing new staff at the beginning of the 2014 school year.

I have provided the recording of the skit here on this post and invite you to watch it.  I remind you, this was performed by high school administrators and teachers for other teachers, administrators, and staff on the school premises and during work hours.

What is so shocking to me about what I saw in the video is the sexual content and bullying.  They joke about masturbation, they “jokingly” called teachers serial killers and sexual offenders, suggested one was drunk, made fun of a new art teacher for being dumb,  mock another teacher’s poor teeth, offer a female teacher a set of testicles, do the “ugly” cheer for one teacher, and finally, physically grope a male administrator.

Publically humiliating new employees in front of their peers is not a good onboarding practice.

It’s shocking to me that these teachers/administrators thought it was OK to perform this skit.  It was something a bunch of high school kids would put together.  These are the ADULTS at the school.

They had obviously put a lot of time into writing and practicing the skit.  While they were writing and practicing, it didn’t occur to them that they were being grossly inappropriate?  What in the world made them think it was acceptable to behave the way they did in the workplace on school property?

It wasn’t a simple accidental comment or a momentary lapse in judgment – heck we’ve all been guilty of that.  Instead, it was a deliberately scripted and practiced performance.  It was deliberate and  mean and people shouldn’t have to put up with these behaviors , especially in the workplace.

These are people we entrust to educate and counsel our high school kids.  They are supposed to be role models.

The two “cheerleaders” in the skit are obviously leaders at the school.  With them being leaders, it shows that the culture in the school is one that is tolerant of bullying and harassment.  According to an earlier article this type of initiation has been going on for some time.  Regardless, it is unacceptable workplace behavior now and should have been in the past.

I commend the school district for immediately addressing the situation and bringing in an outside investigator.  The investigator concluded that “Natrona County High School administrators created an offensive educational environment and used language and actions that amounted to sexual harassment during a skit.”

The principle resigned shortly after the skit was made public.  Although he had nothing to do with the planning and wasn’t present during the skit, he accepted full responsibility.  I find it difficult to believe he didn’t know the content of these welcome back skits as they have been going on for years.  I think he did the right thing by resigning.  He knew he should have put a stop to it long ago. He is also responsible for the culture in the school which was clearly tolerant of coworker bullying and harassment.  No employees were fired over the skit but they were disciplined.

So bottom line, immediate action was taken and discipline was administered to the appropriate people.  Now the district leadership and HR department need to make sure they create a climate that no longer allows this type of behavior.  They also need to re-visit their anti-harassment and anti-bullying training to determine if it is adequate and make it so if it is not.

Their actions, so far, are a good start.

Dolphins Harassment Case: Initial Investigation Interviews are Complete and Many Players are not Cooperating

Investigator, Ted Wells, has completed the initial round of interviews in the harassment investigation in the Incognito/Martin bullying harassment case.

The most interesting development during the first round is many players are being uncooperative with Mr. Wells.

Dolphins players are being less-than-forthcoming with investigator Ted Wells, according to sources familiar with the ongoing probe, and in some cases are refusing to cooperate at all. Owner Stephen Ross addressed the team last week and urged them to be candid and open with Wells, but that has not been the case and it remains to be seen if Wells is able to corroborate the lengthy accounts he was given from Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, the principles involved.

In my opinion, this means two things are happening – neither of which are good.

  1. Some players are protecting Incognito’s bullying behavior.  They know it was wrong but feel a duty to protect their popular teammate.
  2. Some players are afraid of speaking against in fear of retribution from others in the locker room and/or the Dolphin organization.  
The investigation has several more weeks to go and I will update with my opinions as information becomes available.  

Dolphins Harassment Case: Failure in Leadership

The Dolphins have a six member Leadership Council instead of Captains and it appears, in hindsight, that Incognito was a poor choice. There are also some indications that Mike Pouncey was involved with Incognito.

Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, according to sources, was “the ring-leader,” of the ongoing bullying, acting particularly “menacing” toward Martin, while center Mike Pouncey was also involved.

If true, two out of the six “leaders” are bullies (are there more?) and would explain why Martin did not go to the council with his concerns.  What could he do?  Maybe he should have gone to management, HR, or the coaching staff.  Maybe he did and they did nothing.  Maybe he didn’t and didn’t have any faith in them doing anything.  All of this is a clear indication of poor leadership from the top of the organization to the leadership council.

Martin is no dummy.  He went to Stanford and his parents are Harvard educated lawyers.  I am certain they advised him through all this and would have started with him following the policies and going through the proper internal channels.  When those outlets apparently failed, he decided to leave the team (with his parents advice) and start the process that is happening now.

My opinion:  failure in leadership

Here are the members of the Miami Dolphins Leadership Council:

QB Ryan Tannehill
C  Mike Pouncey
G  Richie Incognito
DT Paul Soliai
LB Dannell Ellerbe
DE Cam Wake

Dolphins Harassment Case: Mike Wallace Rationalizes: “He Was Being Richie”

In this video with WR Mike Wallace, he says in defense of Richie Incognito’s harassment of Johnathan Martin “He was being Richie”.  Sorry Mike, not acceptable.

I’ve run into this comment while doing harassment investigations.  People seem to want rationalize bullying behavior by saying nearly the exact same thing.  In my experience, most bullies have very charismatic personalities and can generate a loyal following.  You see it in high school (“mean girls” and the male counterpart) and throughout history (most dictators).   So in the Dolphin case, we will see more of Incognito’s loyal followers support him over the victim, Martin.

I am willing to bet that there are many more in the Dolphin locker room who hate Incognito but are unwilling to say anything.  Several of the big name vets are speaking out in support of him so the younger guys are keeping their mouths shut in fear of retribution.  I’m also certain that we are seeing only the “tip of the iceberg” of what is going on in that locker room.  I think it will get much worse and those who hate him will start speaking out.