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.

The Creative Destruction of the Retail Industry

Amazon Has Changed the Retail Landscape

Amazon announced this past week that it will be adding 100,000 new full-time jobs in the US in the next 18 months. Having spent the early part of my career in the retail industry as a store manager for Macy’s, I like to still keep up with the news and goings-on in the retail industry, specially when it comes to being up to date with all the discounts on retail stores, I was recently able to find the best macys promo code on a great coupon website.

What’s so interesting about the news from Amazon is the news from the big traditional retailers that is happening at the same time. Macy’s closed 40 stores in 2016 and announced it will close 100 more in 2017, recently listing 68 of those stores getting the ax. In addition, Sears Holdings announced that it is closing 150 Sears and KMart stores, and JC Penney recently announced it will be closing a bunch of its stores. I’m only touching on the major retailers here and there are dozens of the small retailers closing stores as well that are too numerous to list.

Obviously, Amazon and technology have fundamentally changed the entire retail landscape. The big traditional retailers didn’t see it coming and didn’t, or couldn’t, keep up. They seem to be heading in the direction of some smaller retailers, Blockbuster and Borders who are a shell of what they once were or no longer even exist.

I remember being asked by one of my employees back in the early 2000’s when I was a store manager for Macy’s what I thought about online retail putting traditional retail out of business. My employee was very concerned and I told her that I doubt companies like Amazon would ever be much of a threat to the big retail giants like Macy’s, Sears, JCP, etc.  After all, people like to go out and shop, handle merchandise, try things on, and talk to and interact with other people. I thought online retail would certainly have it’s niche (books, music, etc.) but didn’t think it would ever pose a serious threat to traditional retail.

Boy was I wrong!

Really wrong.

The news that Amazon is planning to hire 100,000 people at the same time the big traditional retailers are announcing huge store closings and layoffs tells you everything you need to know. Amazon has successfully changed the way people like to shop and I  include myself in that change.

Frankly, I love shopping on Amazon and because I’m a Prime member, I get “free” shipping for most of what I buy from them. Yes I know it’s a gimmick but it does make me feel special!

I find it a pain to go to the mall  and much easier to find what I want online where the selection is unlimited I click a few times and then get a package delivered to me in a couple days! I find it very satisfying.

There are some who are criticizing Amazon complaining that the jobs they are creating are low paying jobs. This is true, however, most retail jobs in general, have always been low paying jobs anyway so it looks to me that they are basically just replacing many of the jobs that the big traditional retailers are cutting.

There are also a lot of good paying jobs at Amazon, just as there are/were at the traditional retailers. There is the buying organization, management, HR, recruiting, IT, and other support services.

Amazon also makes an interesting claim that they sustain an additional 300,000 jobs due to their marketplace business:

Amazon has said that its employment figures alone do not capture its full effect on jobs. On Thursday, the company said its marketplace business, through which independent merchants sell goods on the company’s site, sustained 300,000 additional jobs in the United States.

And sure, Amazon has had some growing pains and had some bad press about their workplace culture but in talking with some of my friends who work there, they are making efforts to improve.

Jeff Bezos and his team have done an amazing job building their company from an online bookseller to a full line store and fundamentally changing our shopping behaviors. They’ve been aggressive and innovative and it’s been fascinating to watch.

Amazon is leading another round of creative destruction in the retail industry where one form of the retail industry is being replaced by a new and much more innovative one.  Shopping malls with  big anchor stores are being replaced by online retail just like downtown shopping districts were replaced by shopping malls back in the 1950’s -1990’s.  And I’m sure we will see something replace online retail in the future.

Creative destruction is tough.  It’s tough on many people. But creative destruction is also good and necessary for advancement and growth. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have all the things that make our lives so much more enjoyable. All you have to do is look back 50 years, 100 years, 200 years and see how far we’ve come and it was all because we allowed creative destruction run its natural course.

Don’t forget to take the survey on today’s subject about Amazon and the creative destruction occurring in the retail industry.

Three Keys to Being a Good Boss

I came across this blog post over at TLNT, written by Derek Irvine, a few weeks back that really resonated with me.  The post was actually first published in October of 2012 and has been republished a couple times since due to it’s popularity.

I love the simplicity of what Derek sees as the three keys to being a good boss.

Those three keys are Presence, Praise, and Promise.

I’m going to be lazy and simply quote all three of these keys as Derek wrote them in his post.

    1. Presence – You not only “manage by walking around,” you show up to meetings on time to signal that you value the work your employees are doing. When you’re meeting with an employee, you shut off or totally ignore your email, IM, texts and any other interruptions to give your full attention to the employee. If employees need your support to push a key decision forward, you lend your visible presence and direct support.
    2. Praise – You make it a point to give your employees the frequent, timely and specific feedback they need to stay on track and move their projects forward appropriately. You recognize and appreciate them and their efforts that are especially in line with the company’s core values and strategic objectives. Because you are diligent about “catching employees doing something good,” you also help employees receive constructive feedback more readily as they know the feedback is intended to help them advance.
    3. Promise – You help your employees see the future they have with the organization and in their career. You don’t make undue or unwarranted promises of course, but you are committed to helping your team members grow and develop – and they know it. You seek out training and development opportunities for them and encourage them to go. You give them realistic “stretch” goals to help them develop skills.

When I read through these three keys I see one very clear attribute.  Respect.  The boss’s respect for their direct report.

In the Presence Key, the boss is respecting the employee’s time.  Showing up for meetings on time shows respect for the time of those in the meeting.  Giving full and undivided attention to an employee when meeting them one on one shows respect for their time.

In the Praise Key, the boss is respecting the employee’s work and effort.  Giving employees regular feedback and recognizing them for their accomplishments.

In the Promise Key, the boss is respecting the employee’s career.  Helping employees by being honest and committed to helping them grow and develop by delegating important tasks and getting them the training they need.

Showing your direct report the respect they deserve is, in my opinion, one of the most motivating factors in the workplace.  It makes people want to work harder and more effectively.  It makes the employee more loyal to their boss and gives them the sense that they are valued and an important part of the boss’s team.

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.

Adding Value: Align HR practices and investors’ requirements

This is the final post in the series of how HR can add value to investors taken from the classic David Ulrich book The HR Value Proposition.

The final action is to align HR practices and investors’ requirements.  By looking at the company through the investors’ perspective, HR pros can develop a more value oriented HR strategy for the organization.

Ulrich suggests four HR practices to consider when viewing the company as an investor.  These practices focus on senior management.

  1. Staffing: HR pros should try to involve and engage the largest shareholders of an organization in the hiring and promotion decisions.  When looking at these decisions from the investor’s perspective, the staffing process may be more disciplined and rigorous.  Since Ulrich’s book was published, the Dodd-Frank Act has given investors some engagement with the Say on Pay provision.
  2. Training and Development: When designing and conducting leadership programs for senior management, consider how the largest single investor would think of the program if they participated in it.  Would they add to their position, hold, or sell off?  Ulrich believes, and I agree, that investors want the participants to focus on real business issues withing the company, instead of reviewing case studies of other organizations.  They would want the participants to have a clear understanding of actions to take to move the company forward after an open and candid dialog of the challenges facing the organization.
  3. Appraisal and Rewards:  Many organizations tie performance and management behaviors to investor focused rewards by putting a large portion of total compensation into stock based incentives like stock options and RSUs.  The theory is that when managers become investors through stock ownership programs, they will think and act like investors.
  4. Governance and Communication:  This practice anticipates that investors will become more interested in the intangibles contribute as much to shareholder value as financial performance does.  Behaviors like decision making, responsibility allocation, etc.
The goal, of course, is to increase investor confidence in the company’s ability to deliver profitable results through applying these HR practices.
This concludes the series of Adding Value from David Ulrich’s book, The HR Value Proposition.  The six parts of the series are listed below.

Introduction to How HR Adds Value to Investors


Dolphins Harassment Case: Players Express Support for Incognito. Where is the Dolphin HR and PR Departments?

Yesterday, the media was allowed in the Dolphin locker room and, as I predicted here, a lot of players expressed their support and love for Incognito and “disappointment” of Martin.  Incognito the cool guy everybody loves while Martin is the quiet weird guy who is causing the problems.  I am a huge Dolphin fan and have been following and supporting these guys for years but my problem is Incognito has a long history of being a bully while Martin does not.

Where is the Dolphin HR and PR departments?  This is going to come back and backfire on these guys and the team in.  The Dolphin HR department should have briefed the players on harassment.  Do they even have harassment prevention training in the NFL?  I don’t know.  Even if they don’t, the smart thing for Ross and Philbin to do would have been to have the training before allowing the media to interview the players. The players may have tempered their comments with the understanding and knowledge of what bullying and harassment is.  The Dolphin PR department should have also been involved and had a session with the players giving them suggestions and advice about what and how to say things.  The players are employees of the Dolphins and are obligated to represent the organization in the best light possible.  As I said earlier, this is going to backfire on the Dolphins and the players who are publicly supporting Incognito and trashing Martin.

As I also said here, I am certain that there are players who dislike Incognito but are no even more afraid to say so.  The leaders of the Dolphin locker room have taken sides with Incognito.  Nobody is going to go against that.

What does all this mean?  Again – NO LEADERSHIP.  Or maybe worse – Bad Leadership.

Harassment in the Workplace

To me, one of the more frustrating aspects of HR is dealing with harassment in the workplace.  Why people can’t just focus on doing their jobs without needing to harass a co-worker or direct report is simply incomprehensible to me.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967, and the American Disabilities Act of 1990 define illegal workplace harassment when based on race, color, creed, ancestry, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, military service, disability, being over age 40, and arrest or conviction record.

Historically, sexual claims have been the main focus of most harassment claims but other forms of harassment are becoming more prevalent and employers are being held more accountable by the EEOC for all forms of unlawful harassment.

Sexual Harassment: Federal courts have consistently ruled that sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination.  The EEOC guidelines are available here.

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Hostile, Abusive and Degrading Behavior: Even though the workplace might be a hostile and abusive environment,  it is only illegal if based on one of the  protected categories listed above.  This harassment consists of verbal abuse, ridicule, mockery, insults, derogatory or sexually explicit language, swearing,  displaying offensive visual materials, and/or telling offensive jokes.

The EEOC recommends the following for an effective harassment prevention policy:

  • Clearly explain the prohibited conduct
  • Be in writing in plain language so that employees can easily understand
  • Protect those who complain from retaliation
  • Assure confidentiality for those who bring complaints
  • Clearly explain and describe complaint procedure
  • Ensure investigative procedure is prompt, thorough, and impartial
  • Assure immediate and appropriate corrective action
  • Provide periodic training to supervisors and employees
 By having a written policy, conducting training, conducting quick and thorough investigations, and administering appropriate corrective action will help create a workplace environment that does not tolerate illegal harassment.   It will also help reduce harassment that is not illegal which is important because I am certain most organizations don’t what any type of harassment occurring in their workplaces.

This is re-posted from www.RichBoberg.com

Open the Books and Encourage Ownership Thinking

Back in January, at the CHRA 2013 Annual Conference, I attended a Master’s Lunch session called “Ownership Thinking” by Brad Hams and received his book as a bonus for attending.

I planned on reading the book and blogging about it earlier and am finally getting to it now that I’m posting every day. I read the book right away, however.

I also just came across an article in the April 2013 HR Magazine “An Open Book” by Dori Meinert that basically discusses the same topic.

So with that, I am going to blog about both because I love the concept!

Both books encourage companies to be transparent with their information and encourage all employees, including line employees, to participate in important business decisions. Open up the books to all employees and start encouraging them to think like they are owners of the company.  Hence the titles An Open Book  and Ownership Thinking!

Hams’ subtitle,  “How to End Entitlement and Create a Culture of Accountability, Purpose and Profit”   directs you to his focus of where he sees the problem with many companies today.  He believes that entitlement is the “insidious disease”  crippling companies and destroying our economy – not the recession or scandal.  That too many employees think they are entitled to a paycheck just because they show up for work. He understands that many of these employees actually want to do a good job and contribute to their employers in a meaningful way but they need an environment to do so.

His book provides the framework for doing this and breaks it down into a four step process:

  1. The Right People: Ownership Thinking creates an environment that promotes learning and development, while at the same time increasing visibility and accountability. Your best people will excel, and your poorest performers are generally self-selected out by their peers.
  2. The Right Education: Employees are taught the fundamentals of business and finance, so that they are better equipped to make decisions that are financially sound.
  3. The Right Measures: Rather than focusing only on lagging financial measures, an emphasis is placed on identifying the most critical leading, activity based measures (Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs), and utilizing those KPIs to forecast results on a regular, formal basis.
  4. The Right Incentives: The process of employee education and focusing on the right measures in an environment of high visibility and accountability will increase your organization’s profitability – guaranteed. We can now design and implement a broad based incentive plan, because it is self funding.

Meinert’s article encourages the concept  “open-book management” of sharing financial information with all employees and including them in the decision making process.  She gives several examples of companies that have successively practiced open-book management including SRC Holdings who claim it requires more than just sharing financial statements and should include:

  • Teaching employees to understand the business and what makes it profitable.
  • Helping employees determine how they can affect the bottom line by setting companywide and department-level goals, keeping score, and holding people accountable.
  • Providing employees with a stake in the outcome, through bonus and incentive programs that encourage them to get involved in improving business results.

She also talks about how rare transparency is and how reluctant corporate management is about sharing financial information with the rank and file.

Only 7 percent of private companies share financial information with all workers, according to an April 2012 survey by Robert Half Management Resources. Another 17 percent provide quarterly or annual financial data to select employees, while 76 percent don’t share financial updates with employees at all, the survey of 1,300 chief financial officers found.

Many CFOs and CEOs “don’t want to let the secrets out because they are afraid … information is going to get to their competitor that can harm them,” says Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at Robert Half.

I fully understand these concerns but I would like to think that companies can trust their employees and would increase the trust these employees have of management if they would be included in discussions and important decision making and are taught to understand the financial  information of the company.

Meinert breaks the process down to three steps which you will note match up with Hams’ steps 2-4 and, ironically, leaves out the “people” element:

  1. Financial Literacy Training
  2. Keeping Score
  3. Cash Incentives

I think teaching all employees to understand the company’s financials and including them in decision making and keeping them “in the loop” is important to the long term success of any company.  The process helps create a strong culture of engaged long term employees who actually care about the contribution they make towards the big picture because they understand how it all relates.