Addressing Workplace Harassment

Young woman and male coworker workplace harassment
By: Dee Brown
3 Minute Read

Sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. The stories that lead the evening news and headline our newspapers seem at times almost too much to comprehend. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Mario Batali… the list goes on and on. But that behavior doesn’t happen in real life, right? Wrong.

Sexual harassment and misconduct are happening everywhere. The issues touches every industry and large, medium, and small businesses across the country. Even if you have not been faced with claims of sexual harassment and misconduct at your organization, it does not mean it is not happening. The problem is so pervasive that several studies indicate that more than 50% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. In fact, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report in 2016 estimated that the number could reach as high as 85%. Those numbers are overwhelming.

It is hard to even think about how HR professionals can start a conversation with leadership teams to tackle this issue in their organizations.

Reflect on the role of HR in your organization.

  • Do employees trust you and come to you with their concerns?
  • Do your actions demonstrate support for solving problems and issues?
  • Do you speak up?

Assess the culture in your organization.

  • Is there an expectation that all individuals will be treated with respect?
  • Do HR staff and managers follow through on discussions with employees?
  • Do your leadership and management teams serve as role models for ensuring a culture of respect and intolerance of inappropriate behaviors?
  • Do you hold people accountable?

Shift the conversation with your leadership team beyond compliance.

  • Does your current approach demonstrate an intolerance for discrimination, harassment, misconduct, unprofessional, and offensive behavior in your workplace?
  • What changes are necessary in your policies and training to encourage victims and bystanders to speak up?

We also recommend that employers create a “culture-focused approach” to foster a work culture that makes intolerable behavior 100% unacceptable. Senior leaders must be models of respect and lead training sessions dedicated to establishing the right culture, and most importantly, set the tone that respect for all employees is non-negotiable.

Is our HR team trained to properly handle and investigate harassment claims?

Given the importance of the issues, it may be time to revisit how well your HR team is prepared to handle claims. For most HR professionals, conducting these investigations is a dormant, non-exercised skill. Whenever a complaint or concern arises, HR must properly address the matter. It may be an appropriate time to revisit the basics and/or consider the use of a 3rd party investigation. The last thing you want is to have them learning ‘on the fly’.

Are our core values more than words on the wall?

A practice’s core values should be ingrained into their culture in every way possible, from the onboarding process to performance appraisals to promotion or demotion decisions. In order to establish trust, employees need to see that misconduct comes with real consequences.

And how can a practice tell if its core values really are core values? The quickest way is to ask: Are we willing to terminate a top performer or a senior leader for not living a core value? If the answer is no, it is not a core value. For examples, one only needs to remember how long broadcasting companies kept their golden geese (such as Matt Lauer andBill O’Reilly) before they finally terminated them. A zero-tolerance policy applies to all employees. Practices cannot allow some employees to get a pass based upon their role and/or value to the organization.

For additional guidance on how employers should handle harassment in the workplace, Curi members may listen to our April webinar on the subject (https://www.medicalmutualgroup.com/hrexperts-webinars), or contact me directly (dee.brown@callhrexperts.comor 919-431-6096).

Dee Brown
Dee Brown is Curi’s on-call human resources consultant. Members may contact her directly at dee.brown@callhrexperts.com or 919-431-6096.

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