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Is Harassment Part Of Your Real Mission?

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It’s very common to hear about Mission Statements, Company Policies, and Business Standards, but if you’re one of those organizations that does not practice what they preach, you’re opening yourself up for a lot of problems down the road. Here in the northwest, we pride ourselves on being open minded and acceptance of the diverse cultures around us, but there is always that individual or group, those people that believe they can play by their own rules in the workplace, no matter who it offends or causes problems for. You know those employees that believe the rules don’t apply to them.

First off, if your company claims to have a “No Tolerance” policy on Workplace or Sexual Harassment, but in reality, it only applies when and who you want it too. You might as well get out the checkbook, because eventually you’re going to be paying for that mistake either in our out of court.

There are three things as set forth by the United States Supreme Court rulings ( Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998) and Burlington Industries, Inc. V. Ellerth) that will help protect a company from losing Workplace or Sexual Harassment lawsuits.

You must have a policy in place.
You Must have training on the policy
You must have a formal way of reporting

Number one is what we’re talking about here. You have the signs posted by the time clock, break rooms, hall ways, and even send them out quarterly in the company newsletter. Your Human Resources person told everyone about it in your New Hire Orientation. They even went as far as to have you sign an acknowledgement form that states you read and understand the Workplace Harassment Policy. But within a week of starting work, you find that the policy is not really practiced. You find the type of conversations going on around the water cooler are more like those heard in a men’s locker room or on “Sex in the City.” Yes, women are just as guilty as men of inappropriate workplace conversations. And when I say inappropriate, I am talking about conversations and topics that would make Larry Flynt bluss.

You find out that bosses are dating employees. This is not sexual harassment but gets about as close as you want to be, and there are very few Human Resources Professionals out there that do not have at least one horror story to reference this type of conduct. Companies that allow this type of behavior from their managers and executives really need to look closely at the can of worms they are opening. Yes, workplace romances are not that uncommon, but for every one that makes it, dozens do not. When the romance dies the blossoms turn to venom and the first target is the company that allowed it.

You also find out that the place of business is nothing more than a good old boy or girl outfit. It’s not just a man’s world any longer and this form discrimination and workplace harassment has now got equality about it that the Woman’s Rights Movement probably did not intend.

What do you do to fix this problem? You need to practice what you preach. If you have a ZERO TOLERANCE policy, than it must be enforced from the TOP to the Bottom. OK, here is comes, oh the work place is too politically correct. Where just having fun. The people who are complaining need to just relax and not be so uptight.

Is this the reason or is it the people who are violating the policy need to grow up and stop acting like their place of business is the recess yard. As an Operations and Human Resources Manager, I have had more third party people complain about this type of unprofessional workplace behavior than those directly affected. It’s the people who are sitting outside the circle who feel sorry for the person who is being targeted by the behavior. It’s the people who witness the harassment and feel that they can’t do anything about it. This is why California has the Third Party Harassment law. Many workplace children complain about it, but the reality of it is due to the fact that so many people are tired of witnessing this extremely inappropriate behavior.

Again, Seattle, I am not talking about our very liberal and refreshing outlook toward workplace conduct. The shorts and flip flops, causual every days, the fun and open behavior that encourages creativity and a longing to become part of something bigger than just a JOB. I am directing this, well many of you know what I am talking about. I have unfortunately witnessed it as an employee and HR Manager and seen first had the destruction is does to the performance and productivity levels of those employees who are not part of it.

For those of you who watched “THE OFFICE.". It’s the episode where the new boss has taken over and the “Inner Circle” has been created. Those employees not part of it, spend more time wondering about it than doing their jobs and those in it are not always focused on doing their jobs.

Workplace Harassment is a virus, worse than any that cripples a computer. It creates fear and hate. It destroys productivity and distracts from production goals. It causes employees to lose their focus and directs their attentions towards escaping. Companies loose great employees because they were too worried about no offending the person who is the problem and not concerned about those who were the victims.

One way to find out if you’re infected with this virus? Does your company do exit interviews with employees who leave? Do you do it with all employees, even those who just up and quit, no notice, just leave? I know, how can you do this? Invest 88 cents and send them a questionnaire with a self addressed stamped envelope. Is 88 cents worth saving other great employees? Is it worth fixing a problem that might be costing you profits? Is it worth saving your company from a very expensive lawsuit down the road?

Now please don’t take this the wrong way, we should not and do not need to be so uptight that going to work is dreaded any more than it already is by most people. There should be fun, levity, and good RESPECTFUL humor in our places of work. We should be able to joke around with each other. Sometimes a great joke can help break up the mundane office rituals that cause many employees to become depressed in their duties and lose focus. But before you tell that joke, or do something humorous, let’s remember we are no longer on the playground and as adults need to understand that humor does not need to be disrespectful to be funny. A good time does not have to result in the offense of others. Enjoyment is not a justification to be ignorant.

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