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Workplace Harassment: In Life as in Art!

A while back, Ellen DeGeneres did a game with guests on her show. She compared harassment training videos to real life situations and challenged guests to guess the real from the fiction. One of our videos was used to stump the guests. This was well before the Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Al Franken and Matt Lauer revelations and all those in the aftermath—which, sadly, and I mean that, makes our work more crucial than ever. The devastation harassment can wreak on the targets of the misconduct, brands, companies, careers is in the harsh light of day.

OK, let’s play. Take a look at this situation and decide … real or fiction?

Welcome to EveryCo, a fictional company in your industry.

Meet Roger, a respected, likable, high-producing manager with a touchy feely style and edgy sense of humor. Everyone knows he’s got a good heart and doesn’t mean anything by his kidding around, right?

Today, Roger is meeting with Margo, an employee, about a promotion. When Margo arrives, Roger’s on the phone, joking lightheartedly with a fellow manager about a gay employee.

Margo’s embarrassed by the phone conversation—also by the picture on Roger’s desk of his wife on the beach in Rio. Enough said.

Margo’s easily offended. That irritates Roger and raises concerns regarding the promotion.

Roger speaks with her candidly, says she’s the most qualified for the opening and he wants her to succeed, but she’s uptight, makes people paranoid. He tells her she needs to loosen up, be part of the team, show up at the parties and the happy hour. After all, she’s Irish, isn’t in her DNA to hit a pub once in a while? Jokingly, he says she “…needs to liberate herself from that Catholic School upbringing.”

Well, call it. Real or fiction?

Actually, this is part of the opening moments of a powerful, issue-packed episode I and my training partner, Memo Mendez, perform in our “edutainment”-style harassment prevention training, on-site and online.

Think Roger’s behavior is over the top? Think it doesn’t happen except in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.? Not here, not now in our enlightened, politically correct workplaces?

Please. Give me your rose-colored glasses and get me a latte with an extra shot.

That kind of situation and a vast number of other high-risk scenarios happen all the time, even in world-class workplaces. It’s often unintentional, unrecognized, and unreported—until a lawsuit is filed or the EEOC comes calling.

It’s a ticking litigation time bomb which can be defused via meaningful harassment education which teaches:

So—any harassment in Roger’s office? Probably. If so, Margo and Roger, like your employees and managers, have legal rights and responsibilities they need to exercise and fulfill.

Do your employees and managers know how to recognize harassment and how to respond should it occur? You need them to!

Here are three of the core concepts they need to understand:

Harassment is Unwelcome Conduct

If it’s welcome, it’s not necessarily harassment. But welcome to whom? Roger was in a private conversation with a fellow manager when Margo walked in. Maybe the conversation had sexual or homophobic overtones, but it was welcome to the people having it. However, we work in an environment. Sound carries. Images carry. We can’t just think about what’s welcome in our direct interactions, but also to those in the work environment.

Intent vs. Impact

Harassment is about impact not intent. It’s defined 100% by the impact on the other person. Intentions are irrelevant. Like the NFL. You’re offside, you get caught, there’s a penalty, whether you meant it or not. As mentioned, Roger is good hearted. He doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s just being himself. Unfortunately, unless he’s enlightened, he’s a runaway train rumbling toward a cliff with the company’s good name and resources aboard.

Consenting vs. Welcome

If someone consents to something, it’s probably welcome, right? Let’s say you get off work, it’s dark, you’re in the parking lot, a stranger comes up behind you, puts a 9mm to your head, says “Give me your wallet.” You going to give it up? Darn Skippy. Did you consent? Yes. Did you welcome giving up your wallet? Of course not. The law recognizes that in the workplace people consent to things they don’t welcome for a variety of reasons.

Effectively educating your workforce about harassment prevention and proper response to complaints is a great investment, especially when compared with the costs of lawsuits, settlements and compliance audits.

And if, heaven forbid, you end up in court, your efforts at prevention and proper response by management can be major factors in the outcome. Effective training can provide an affirmative defense to a harassment suit.

Sadly, some employers choose not to do harassment prevention education. Here are some common reasons why:

  • Training will just stir things up
  • It’s a can of worms
  • Why open Pandora’s Box?
  • Let sleeping dogs lie

On this last point, as we are seeing now, those sleeping dogs do eventually wake up. When they do, effective training is a very good thing.

Kit Goldman and Memo Mendez

Kit Goldman and Memo Mendez are nationally acclaimed trainers, facilitators and experts with Wolf Management Consultants on legal and human issues in the workplace. Kit and Memo’s unique “edutainment” methodology harnesses the power of entertainment to enlighten and educate on dozens of workplace topics, and achieves unsurpassed levels of engagement and retention. Over the past 15 years, their entertainment-based courses have engaged 800,000+ executives, managers, and employees in a vast array of industries. They have appeared frequently as workplace experts in the national media. Call 858-638-8260 or email madams@wolfmotivation.com to learn more.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPersonal Development

About the Author: Kit Goldman and Memo Mendez are nationally acclaimed trainers, facilitators and experts with Wolf Management Consultants on legal and human issues in the workplace. Kit and Memo’s unique “edutainment” methodology harnesses the power of entertainment to enlighten and educate on dozens of workplace topics, and achieves unsurpassed levels of engagement and retention. Over the past 15 years, their entertainment-based courses have engaged 800,000+ executives, managers, and employees in a vast array of industries. They have appeared frequently as workplace experts in the national media. Call 858-638-8260 or email madams@wolfmotivation.com to learn more.

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