Working together in peace and harmony without prejudice is key to having a smooth running and legal plant today. Long gone are the days of “fetch me a cup o’ coffee sweetie” or anything similar. Unfortunately, even a passing harmless remark such as “you sure look pretty today” can send a well-intentioned employee runnin’ for the hills! If more serious allegations are true, a company will find the federal government has many checkpoint measures to insure that the matter isn’t swept under the rug. These types of problems can be properly dealt with to protect any potentially harassed employee in the workplace. What can’t always be protected is the employee who supposedly made an off the cuff remark that had no real intended meaning. Can today’s overly protective government tell the difference? I rather doubt it.
“The Government Loves To Tell You How You Should Feel”
Being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment in particular can be very problematic. How could a man prove he did not make such an unwanted advancement? Just how terrible can it be? Might it only be a harmless hug or gesture? Who is to say what is harmless and what is not? Generally, the government takes the position that if the employee is to be fully protected, any unwanted physical or verbal gesture can be declared as harassing by the offended party. Talk about the government getting into our daily lives!
If any of this sounds as if I am merely defending the aggressor, rest assured I am not. Experience in management has taught me that you must walk a fine line in defending the rights of women (which are amply defended by the government) or to protect a man who usually is not protected from untrue accusations. An old sawhorse like myself can be deemed as overly friendly when in fact, it was the way I grew up in the south. Down there, everything is “sugar this and honey that.” We are harmless. One thing is for sure; it had better be business as usual in the workplace and leave all the familiarities at home. Sounds dull don’t it?
It’s pretty tough to prove you are innocent of a transgression when reverse discrimination is working. Yes, today we have that creepy little over used law that seems to be turning the tide (no pun intended) to not being anywhere near fair. When a person is wrongly accused, a cloud of doubt follows his resume. But, in the end, my experience has taught me that enforcement lies directly with the manager. If a manager is lucky enough to work for a strong owner that will indeed allow him to manage without interference, then watching for discrimination of any kind should be a priority.
A few good tips for a working and mindful manager might be the following:
1. Do everything possible to make a harassment free working environment by having weekly bull sessions (meetings).
2. Be ready and alert to spot any remedy potential problems.
3. As a manager be sure to respond immediately and in private to any complaints from either side of the story.
4. Make sure your company stands ready to provide management with the proper tools to prevent that company from being sued. Pre hiring arbitration agreements are being used these days.
5. All employees must comply with training concerning potential violations on the job.
6. A good company manual can cover all of these issues without making a big deal out of it.
7. The civil rights Act in 1963 under President Lyndon Johnson of Texas and again in 1967, and again in 1991 under President Clinton more than adequately covers the issues of harassment on the job. The list is endless of what you can and cannot do. Great reading if you are having trouble sleeping at night.
So as to fairly cover the totality of your protection I shall list some of the more obvious forms of discrimination such as age (over 40), ancestry, color, race, religion, denial of Family and Medical Care Leave Act, mental situations including health issues such as AIDS or HIV protection, ethnicity, marital status, national origin, pregnancy, sex, sexual orientation and veteran status! Wow! That’s a lotta government stuff! Like grandma’s nightshirt, it covers everything!
“Intent versus Impact”
One of the most important things to remember is that harassment is not necessarily what the alleged harasser intended to do, but rather what was the actual impact or effect of their thoughts or actions. Subtle actions by your employees or boss could easily be described as unwelcome sexual behavior. Does this behavior continue in the workplace and who sets the description of what is harassing? Typically the government will say in weak language that a lady will describe harassment as anything that makes them uncomfortable. Boy, that is about as clear as mud! Believe it or not, subtle harassment is not unlawful. It is considered as an unthoughtful or inappropriate and risky movement on the part of the harasser and this is pretty close to being unlawful. Now how is that for being clear?
Remember there is a difference between breaking the law and breaking company policy. My thought is to follow the company policy (based loosely on the law) and punish according to your own standards in the workplace, There is always a risk of being sued, but when is there ever not? Your best bet as an employee or employer is to stick to business at work and leave the monkey business at home or after work. After all, you don’t want to rile the wagon master.
I’m headin’ to the wagon now, these boots are killin’ me!