Let’s talk about Sex(ual Harassment)

I have made it a long time without talking about sexual harassment, and that has been by choice. The truth is, I haven’t really felt like there was much to say about it. Do you want sexual harassment training? Don’t do it. There. Now go back to work.

I find it to be a sad testament to our society that we have to conduct training to tell people, and yes I said people – this goes for all sexes – to treat one another with respect. Yet, thanks to Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, that dude from NPR, and on and on, here we are talking about it.

First up, I want to make clear that this stuff ain’t new. Whether it was hunting and gathering (“you know, if you used the smaller fig leaves, I’d be willing to share some of my berries,”) or in modern work environments with buttons that automatically close office doors, this has always been an issue.

So first let’s talk about what happens if you are subjected to harassment. The right thing to do is to bring it up within your organization. Maybe you don’t have an HR department, or maybe you do, but don’t like them (gasp). No matter, almost everyone has a boss. VPs report to Presidents or CEOs. CEOs have boards. Once you report the behavior it is the organization’s responsibility to promptly investigate the concern.

“Psh, forget that,” you may be saying. “I’m just going to sue.”

Sure, you can do that, but your success rate may not be so hot. First up, you are going to want to find a lawyer. To be more specific, a lawyer who is willing to take your case. In most cases, the lawyer doesn’t get paid unless he or she wins your case, so unless they think they have a decent shot at winning, they may decide to pass. If you decided to skip to the front of the line and not try to work this out, the lawyer is going to see what the court will see – someone who is not willing to follow the rules. In fact, it is estimated that only between 3 and 6 percent of sexual harassment cases actually go to trial, so there isn’t much of an incentive for an attorney to invest a lot of time and money into a case like this if the odds of even getting to, much less winning at, trial is pretty small.

Does this mean that you don’t talk to an attorney if you are subjected to harassment? Of course not. I am just suggesting that this may not be the best course of action for you if you do not give the company a chance to deal with it first. Tell them that you need to be separated from the harasser until the investigation is concluded, if you cannot work with this person any longer, or you fear for your safety. Regardless of what you do though – document, document, document. I would suggest using email so there is a record, time stamp, etc. Despite what the news may have you to believe, very few companies want to deal with the cost of defending a sexual harassment claim, regardless of the odds of success. While they can’t stop you from filing a lawsuit, they can present evidence that they looked into the allegations and dealt with them appropriately, which is their best defense and likely to be the cheapest way to deal with these types of things.

Now, if you are an employer or boss, here is a refresher in the harassment training I gave earlier: if you are engaging in this type of behavior, and you will know if you are, stop. This is a job, not Club Med. If you are just kidding around, it ain’t funny (and I am an expert in what’s not funny). So I repeat, STOP. Now get back to work.

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