Real Issues. Real Answers. Sexual harassment policies

By / January 5, 2018

Real Issues. Real Answers. Sexual Harassment

Today’s headlines are dominated by allegations of sexual harassment, often reaching the highest levels of government and business. Companies across all industries are taking a fresh look inside their operations, making sure that they’re doing what they can to ensure a happy, productive, harassment-free workplace. A healthy, positive workplace atmosphere is obviously better than the alternative, with the added benefit of helping to minimize the odds of legal action. As we’ve seen, these cases can do tremendous damage to a company’s reputation and even its ability to remain in business. That’s why businesses across industries are taking this seriously, and why this month’s Real Issue is sexual harassment policies.

This month’s question came from a female LBM dealer in Texas, who wrote: “The recent explosion of sexual harassment claims and lawsuits has got me thinking. Our company has lots of men. They’re good people, but it seems that today, even telling the wrong joke could cause some real problems. I wonder what proactive steps, if any, we should take to make sure no one in our company crosses the line with colleagues, customers or anyone else. What should we do?”

As we do each month, we built a very brief survey around her question, and emailed it to those industry pros who’ve opted in to receive our email communi- cations. Judging from the very strong response to this month’s survey, it clearly is something that’s on readers’ minds. A big thank you to the more than 350 readers who took time to weigh in on this important topic. Hundreds of readers share their insights for this every-issue feature. Have a Real Issue? Contact me at [email protected]

Question 1
First, we wanted to gauge where companies in our industry stand regarding sexual harassment policies, so we asked: “Does your company have a written sexual harassment policy in place?” As the results show in the graph, nearly 60% of respondents report that their company does have a written policy in place, while just over 30% said no, and 10.5% don’t know. Given the volume of discourse on this topic in today’s headlines, and judging from the verbatim answers to the next question, the number of companies in the “no” and “don’t know” columns are likely to shrink.

Sexual harassment policy

Representative comments to this question include:

“It is real simple, one page.”

“It covers all of the legal basics but it is 15 years old. Probably time to review and update if necessary.”

“Just recently took sexual harassment training. I don’t think a policy has been put in place yet.”

“I’ve never seen one.”

“A must-have for any legitimate business.”

“We’re very small (3 FT employees, 2 casual PT), so we have very few written policies.”

Question 2
“The recent explosion of sexual harassment claims and lawsuits in the news has got me thinking. Our company has lots of men. They’re good people, but it seems that today, even telling the wrong joke could cause some real problems. I wonder what proactive steps, if any, we should take to make sure no one in our company crosses the line with colleagues, customers or anyone else. What should we do?”

Responses
“Men should act like gentlemen, and women should act like ladies. Respect for each other is paramount.”

“Sad to say but it looks as if we are going to have to stay in our office and not interact outside business with anyone. Civil rights seems to be the most important issue in our country today. This far outweighs the economy or healthcare. I know this doesn’t help your survey but quite frankly I am at a total loss here. Signed, I am embarrassed of the 545 people who run this country.”

“Bring in an HR consultant to train everyone on sexual harassment. Then be diligent about following up and taking appropriate action on any behaviors that are not within guidelines. But definitely bring in an ‘expert’ on sexual harassment if you are at all concerned. Unfortunately, it can get ugly pretty quickly if not handled properly.”

“Teach your people to ‘thicken their skin.’ Words never hurt anyone. Physical contact is an entirely different subject. That requires an iron fist. But a word, a joke, no big deal. Just think about what you see and hear on TV and radio. That gets shrugged off as okay. Why should the workplace be any different?”

“Constantly discuss with employees how important it is to respect one another.”

“There should be culture of inclusiveness and respect for all in the workplace. Senior management MUST lead by example. They must also make sure that in regards to outright harassment, there is a no tolerance policy.” 40% 50% “A must-have for any legitimate business.”

“We’re very small (3 FT employees, 2 casual PT), so we have very few written policies.”

“Ideally, talk with some of the women in your organization. HR training has to have clear support from the top. Getting women into upper management helps a lot. Aim to foster an environment of trust and backing from top management that any ethical issues—whether sexual harassment or other breaches—will be taken seriously. The guys probably know who the bad apples are too, just as well as the women (the creep factor). Those who are the worst offenders typically don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong. Soul-searching and open dialogue are healthy steps, but actions speak louder than words. Fortunately, in my experience, most men in corporations are gentlemen and are respectful. Create a climate where both women and men feel supported to speak up about their concerns.”

“Get a policy in place ASAP!”

“Talk about it—frequently—through training, reminders, etc. Set the standard as part of your culture and ensure that your managers are good examples.”

“Have a written policy in place saying that sexual harassment is not tolerated. The policy should include procedures that people should follow if they feel they are being harassed and procedures of how it will be dealt with. The key is to be proactive. And follow the procedures as they are outlined. My experience being a female in a male industry, what one person feels is harassment may or may not be the same for everyone else. Just because someone steps over a boundary does not always mean they are purposely being evil, some just have different boundaries.”

“I do not believe that off-color language and/or jokes fall under the category of sexual harassment, and I am a woman. If you do not like what is being said and/ or discussed, you can leave the area. If you are not able to leave the area, then your concerns should be discussed, in private, with your direct supervisor. Inappropriate touching, such as on personal areas, or cornering someone, or constantly invading their personal space, would, in my opinion fall into the sexual harassment category.”

“All of our employees are various ages and we have never had a complaint about this sort of thing. Much of what is in the press these days is absolutely FALSE. Women looking to seek fortune. Our employees are aware of this situation and would never ever use any suggestive remarks or advances.”

“Need to put something in the policy handbook just so it’s in there to cover your butt.”

“Have a policy in your employee handbook every employee signs for. No signature, no job. Discipline accordingly. Create a culture of RESPECT.”

“Just don’t go there…even if/when you think everyone is friends, okay with it, like-minded, you are playing with fire. Establish a culture of respect, clean speech, dating policy, etc., by way of written policy, training, responsibility and accountability. It is complex and requires knowledgeable HR folks to follow state and federal mandates correctly.”

“Read some generic policies of other companies and adapt them to your business and personnel. Sometimes the power of suggestion in a policy invites accusations. People need to use common sense and realize that in a workplace, we may get our feelings hurt by someone. One remark should not be a reason to fire someone. However, on-going harassment is different. By the way, I am a woman who has worked in the hardware/lumber business for over 30 years.”

“If no written sexual harassment policy exists, create one. If one exists, it may be time to highlight it and make sure everyone is reminded of it.”

“Unfortunately, one person’s idea of a joke is another person’s idea of negative behavior. Be professional and treat everyone with respect. If you don’t know the difference, you shouldn’t be working there. If you cross the line and the hammer comes down, you get one warning. If you repeat that action, you deserve to be fired. Everyone should be able to work in an atmosphere that is free from bullying and harassment. This is common sense to most, but not to all. The examples that have been grabbing news headlines recently are obviously situations that no one should have to endure. But there are many more subtle actions that are not as clear cut. Policing all of this will take a massive effort on everyone’s part. I think the ongoing news reports have been an eye-opener to most businesses, and has made them aware of the seriousness of this situation. It has empowered those who felt helpless to realize that they are not alone and others will be there to stand up for them, if they make others aware of their situation.”

“Fortunately, we have an all-male staff. However, we have a lot of women customers, and we watch closely who is waiting on them and the interaction between them.”

“We use the ‘red face’ test, or would you tell this story or joke to your mother? If you are not able to look in the mirror, then you should not be telling your story.”

“Really watch what you say. Think of your wife or daughter.”

“Bring in a speaker for both sexes, speaking in-house about the subject. Let all who are involved understand that no harassment will be tolerated under threat of termination. Also let everyone know that if such charges are brought forth, and found to be false, immediate termination will also be brought toward the accuser.”

“Find you a wife and leave other women alone. If female, find you a husband and leave the men alone.”

“Let’s be honest, all men have probably done something in their life that could be construed as sexual harassment. An inappropriate comment, suggestion, pick-up line, joke or touch. It takes a conscious effort to stop an interaction before it becomes harassment. Create a respectful culture and relationships from the top down, and a willingness to say, ‘you cannot say that’ when something crosses the line.”

“Times have changed, so must each company’s sexual harassment policies. What was accepted before no longer is, and this must be enforced with each employee. It’s not about intent anymore. Instead, it’s how it is received. We all have to be conscious of this, with everything we say and do.”

“Hire more women!”

“Draft a written policy that states how your company is committed to providing a workplace that is free from unlawful harassment. You will have employees that are going to behave inappropriately despite the training, including the ‘good people.’ Humans will always be human, and humans make mistakes. Having a policy in place is a good first step.”

“Know what the line is and don’t cross it. Each person is different and should not all be treated the same. You always know, by the person’s reaction if it was welcome or not, whether it be a hug a comment or a joke. If the reaction to your behavior is negative, apologize immediately, and never repeat it.”

The reader who suggested the “Real Issues” topic will receive an LBM Journal executive prize pack. Includes: a polo shirt, cap, mug, and pen.

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