From our friend Toni Ahl at EEO Advantage
I’ve done many articles about harassment. Why do we keep talking about harassment? Perhaps because it’s still a problem for most employers. For fiscal year 2018, almost 27,000 charges that were filed with EEOC alleged harassment as an issue. Employers paid $134,000,000.00 in fiscal year 2018 to victims through EEOC to resolve charges alleging harassment. So, as you can see, harassment remains a problem for many employees and employers. But where does harassment begin? Can employers take steps to stop harassment before it begins?
There are danger zones employers might monitor to stop behavior that has not risen to the level of harassment but is not behavior that shows employees are valued. Employers need to train employees about actions that are danger zones to they can hold themselves as well as their co-workers accountable for inappropriate behavior. The more employers and employees talk about inappropriate behaviors and how to change them, the more the social norms at the company will change.
Let’s consider some of the areas which can lead to disrespectful behavior and/or illegal harassment. Nicknames in the workplace can be a problem if they are based on the way a person looks, the way a person speaks, where a person is from or the person’s age. There may be a link to a protected status due to these characteristics. Asking a co-worker intrusive personal questions may also lead to problems. For example, asking a co-worker if they are married could lead to finding out about someone’s sexual orientation. Consensual workplace romances may go wrong and lead to allegations of sexual harassment once the couple is no longer together and the behavior of the person who still wants to date is unwelcome. Whispers, gossip and exclusions are another area of concern. Depending on the way comments about someone’s personal appearance are made has an effect on how the comments are received and may be perceived as unwelcome and/or as harassment. Using stereotypes and assumptions about co-workers can lead to allegations of harassment. Hugging and other touching may be a problem and employees need to be aware of how the other person is reacting to the physical attention. Sexual jokes and innuendo don’t really belong in the workplace.
If employees are made aware that these types of behavior can lead to allegations of harassment, maybe the behaviors can be curtailed before they rise to the level of illegal harassment. Treating one another with respect and dignity sounds easy, but that is not always the case. We may not always like the people with whom we work, but we need to remember to treat them with respect and dignity while we are working.
Management must set an example for employees from executive management down. Making an investment in training for all employees to talk about respect, dignity and harassment is the first step in establishing a workplace where people are proud to work and feel valued. If employees feel valued, the entire workplace will have better morale and be more productive. Employers want to attract and maintain good employees. Having a good public image is essential. Employees project the image of the company to the public. Employees who are treated with respect and dignity will project a good image.
If you have questions about harassment or respect in the workplace, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 553-7648.