Published on March 19th, 2019 by Alan L. Sklover
“Gender equality is a human fight, not a female fight.”
– Freida Pinto
ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Gerald, a sales team supervisor, regularly made jokes about sex in team meetings, was known to often touch female team members “by accident,” and held private meetings with female sales team members in his office, with the door closed.
Two female team members were rumored to have complained to HR of Gerald’s habits, their discomfort with it, and then simply seemed to “disappear,” that is, they did not return to work on Monday morning, without any of the sales team members hearing from them that either had a new job elsewhere.
Tom, a male sales team member, was called into HR, where he was met by an outside attorney working for the company, who insisted on interviewing him. The interview, which lasted almost two hours, seemed to focus on what Tom observed, and – quite surprisingly to Tom – why he did not report his observations to HR, as is now required by new company policies, about which he was not aware.
Barbara, Gerald’s supervisor, was also interviewed by an outside attorney for the company, and the questions asked to her focused – to her surprise – on what she had done to train her teams on anti-harassment policies and practices, and to regularly assess the quality of the work environment of her reports, as is now required by new company policies about which she was not aware.
Cary, who headed up Human Resources for the Sales Division, was also interviewed by the investigator, whose many questions focused – to Cary’s surprise – on what training and ongoing assessment he had initiated of the employee morale of Sales Division employees, as is now required by new company policies of which he was not aware.
New thinking, new limits, new policies, new expectations, new accountabilities, new risks, new consequences. There are a lot of new things to learn and keep in mind.
LESSONS TO LEARN: The #MeToo Movement has been something of an earthquake in the workplace, and it continues to have a wide variety of “aftershocks.” These “aftershocks” are not only what you see, hear or read about. It’s something less visible, more visceral. It’s about what is no longer acceptable, no longer tolerated, no longer joked about, no longer without substantial consequence. It’s not about a law; it’s more about what is simply not tolerated. It seems to be one of those epic steps forward in societal norms that, hopefully, will never be reversed.
The #MeToo Movement has clarified that freedom from abuse at work is something human right, a right to be free from a kind of deep humiliation, physical intimidation, outright fear and human exploitation. This web post covers just one of its many facets: how it has grown from a laugh-laden phenomenon to one that can not only ruin your career, but even put you in jail. It is serious, and needs to be taken seriously.
As a general matter, employers have not before been held accountable for harassment at the workplace of which they were not aware. So, if you did not complain, you had no effective right, and your abuser had no effective responsibility. That seems to be changing, and employers are increasingly concerned about the cost of being caught unaware. . . Yes, it’s a dollar and cents issue, too. Employers are no longer ignoring #MeToo issues, but are now seeking to prevent them, with their own interests in mind.
Employers, managers and colleagues are all increasingly being held responsible for not doing something to stand up, and face down, those who harass at work. According to a recent Bloomberg Law report, law firms are being hired to engage in a record number of investigations into employee harassment complaints. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of employers who are conducting preventive training to prevent workplace harassment in the first instance, and to come up with better ways of handling it if and when it does rear its head.
The lesson is clear: things are changing, and they require thoughtful consideration of how you need to adapt with those changes, or be confronted with potentially career-ending “news.” There is no simple, universal “rulebook” but an evolving one that gives every employee good reason to keep her or his mind wide open for what and how the new workplace requires of employees.
If you are not convinced, just look at what has happened to so many CEO’s, so many famous and wealthy men like Mr. Weinstein, Mr. Cosby, Mr. Lauer, Mr. O’Reilly, and so many others who were blind, oblivious or overconfident about their ability to avoid the new accountability that is @MeToo.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Having worked on workplace harassment issues for many years, the following 10 points are among those that would be best kept in mind. They are steps that are among those I would suggest all employees consider doing to be, and to be perceived as, part of the solution, and not be, or be wrongly perceived to be, part of the problem:
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