Once Again, It’s All About Behavior

I don’t know about you, but the past year has brought about a rash of harassment cases to my attention and subsequent action.  I’m frequently asked by clients to do an intervention for an individual or group that requires education regarding what is acceptable – and what’s not acceptable – behavior in the workplace.

In fact, the EEOC received 99,920 individual charges in 2010; a 7% increase over 2009 and close to a 33% increase in the last five years.  Of those 2010 charges, 29% were for sex (16% of which were males, a figure that has been steadily increasing over the past 13 years).

Total outlay of money for all resolutions in 2010?  Over $319.4 million, which doesn’t include monetary benefits obtained through litigation.

Since I’m having fun with numbers, that calculates out to $2.28 for each of the current 139,854,000  employees in the U.S. labor force.

That’s a lot of moola to spend on something that can be preventable.

Harassment is prohibited through Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and includes all behavior that has the effect of humiliating, intimidating, or coercing another person.  We define behavior in this case as anything one person says or does to another person that is unwelcome and causes embarrassment, discomfort and emotional distress.  It’s not important  if the first person thinks she’s just being funny; all that really matters is the impact of that behavior on the other person or the work environment.

Harassment is not going leave the workplace.  My contention is that if you have two or more people in a room (or a person and a computer), regardless of gender, race, etc., there is an opportunity for harassment.  Based on my experience, I also believe a lot of it has to do with cultural differences and just plain ignorance.

Which leads me to this question:  where are you in your harassment prevention initiative?

Savvy HR pros know that if they want to protect their employers and employees alike, they should:

  • Have a no tolerance policy prohibiting harassment, sexual or otherwise, and instruct employees on what harassment is and is not.
  • Communicate the policy continuously through new hire orientations, annual refreshers, and other educational opportunities.
  • Train supervisors in their particular responsibilities and obligations as an agent of the employer.
  • Employ a robust complaint procedure, one that is investigative, objective, and thorough.
  • Take prompt, effective action, once harassment has been reported.

I don’t know about you, but if I could protect my employees and save my organization $2.28 a person, I would have a very happy employer, indeed.

And that makes good sense, business and otherwise, doesn’t it.


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