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. AION Recovery Rehab Center provides professional care in this respect.

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.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive! Also, if situations arise where intervention of a third party is required to ward off office politics, expert help and counsel on several matters can always be available at Labor Law Compliance Center. Feel free to reach out to them.

Please take weekly survey located here and at the top of the sidebar.

Hard Hat Values: 4. Complete the job before moving on to the next

Complete the job before moving on to the next.  This is the fourth of five Hard Hat Values.

When you complete a job or project you can move on to the next one with the psychological satisfaction of completing something and can fully concentrate on the next job without the distraction of the uncompleted job.  Accidents occur more often when workers are distracted.

In the long run, time is saved when jobs are completed before moving on to the next one.  It usually takes additional time to get back into the work that was abandoned before being fully up to speed and there are usually things that need to be repaired due to being left unfinished.

Hard Hat Values: 1. Nobody Gets Hurt. Nobody.

In my series of five values I call Hard Hat Values I am starting with the most important one – Nobody Gets Hurt. Nobody.

In the Extractive Industries, safety is and should be the most important and top of mind value for all employees in the organization – from the field crews to the executive offices.  Creating a culture of safety from top to bottom sends the message that nobody gets hurt.

You need to have a strong EHS (Environmental, Healty, and Safety) department where the EHS employees are not afraid to make the tough decisions.  I had an excellent EHS manager tell me that when he was at work, he would be the biggest a-hole to ensure the safety rules were followed every day but he would also be your best friend after work.  What kept him motivated was that he did not want to have the spouse and family of an employee who was seriously injured or killed at work look to him and ask “Why?”

In addition to a strong EHS department, every single employee in the organization must be focused on safety, from the CEO up to the Receptionist.  Requiring a “safety share” from all employees before each meeting at all offices and sites is a great way to build a culture where safety is the number one value.

Safety First: Protective Eyewear

When working in an industrial environment, protective eyewear in essential for the safety of employees.  Its important for the HR pro in an industrial company to understand the standards.

In the United States, the document governing protective eyewear is ANSI Z87.1 which has been in existence since 1968.  OSHA specifically cites Z87.1 as the minimum standard for eye and face protection where a hazard assessment in the workplace requires the protection.

The current standard is Z87.1-2010 with eye protectors being either non-impact or impact related.  The impact related eye and face protectors must meet high mass and high velocity tests as well as continuous lateral coverage.

High mass test: A 1.1 lb pointed projectile is dropped from 50 inches onto the complete protector mounted on a headform.  The lens cannot fracture and must remain in the frame in addition to no pieces breaking free.  This test simulates impact from a tool that accidently slips from an employee’s hand or when the lens collides with stationary objects.

High velocity test: A 1/4 inch steel ball traveling at 102 mph is projected at 6 specified impact points.  The requirements are the same as above in addition to no contact with the eye of the headform is allowed through deflection of the lens. This test simulates particles encountered in grinding or machining.

HR pros should work with their EHS or safety manager and staff to ensure their policy regarding protective eyewear is current and up to date and that employees are adhering to the current standard.  It is also important to provide employees who are required to wear safety glasses easy to follow procedure and an allowance for purchasing them.

This was re-posted from www.RichBoberg.com