But our company doesn't offer chair massages...
From the archives (circa 2007)
Thank you, Sir. May I have another?
On Friday, October 27th at 11 a.m., I was subjected to a most horrendous form of torture--mandatory sexual harassment training for a certain unnamed community college. Upon receiving the email some days earlier that stated "all employees are required to attend," I immediately felt the need to purge my stomach of its contents. Sexual harassment training? You must be kidding, I thought. Aren't we all adults here? Excuse the cliche, but this was beating a dead horse. Of course, something must have occurred to send human resources into such a frenzy.
From the very start--choosing a time and location--this training was difficult. As an instructor, my schedule is a busy one. Between classes, holding office hours, and tutoring in the learning center, finding a time that would fit was near impossible. In fact, it was impossible. We were given four options, and the only one that worked for me was on a distant campus. Luckily, I was able to juggle commitments and attended the Friday morning session. I say luckily because if my name wasn't on one of those "attended" lists, then my name would've been on my department head's list. I wasn't going to tempt the Gods.
Nothing comes between me and my Calvins
Upon entering the conference room, on the verge of late as is my style, I walked in and signed the sheet in front of what must have been at least a hundred or more other employees. All eyes on me, I immediately realized my jeans were too tight, and I was the poster child for what not to wear at work. Oh well, I thought and found a seat. So much for sitting in the back and grading papers. All the seats were taken, so I found a spot in the middle.
Barbara, head of Human Resources, introduced herself and the purpose of our gathering--sexual harassment training. Poor Barbara...this was the last seminar of the week, and one could tell that she was tired of the reiteration. Nonetheless, she walked us through the definition of the term and provided examples of what might be deemed sexual harassment as she paced back and forth in front of her audience. So far, I heard nothing new. Anyone with any common sense knew this stuff already. Catcalls, touching, pornography, repeated requests for dates--obviously harassment. But then she goes on to say that anything can be considered harassment if it is perceived that way regardless of intention. For example, Joe Schmo can hug Cindy at work, and if it's okay with Cindy, then it's not harassment. However, if Sam Schmo sees this display of affection and tries it on Cindy and she is repulsed, then it's harassment. In a nutshell, it's all about perception. How about let's call it a day and say, "no affection or touching at work!" Then we can all go home.
To make matters worse, we were then shown a video that just went over the same information again but with an even more monotonous narrator. The only highlight was that the scenes showing us what not to do were hilarious; however, I don't think we were supposed to be laughing during our training. In that case, weren't we already guilty of harassment? After the clips, the video narrator again summarized what was considered sexual harassment. This was at least the third time we had to hear it. Was the point just to beat it into us? As if telling us once just couldn't possibly be enough?
What did she say?
Looking around, I could see people chatting, grading, sleeping--you name it. Typical meeting behavior. Does that say our employees do not take sexual harassment seriously? No, that says that the method which they were using to convey the information was ineffective. This information could've been presented via email. Each employee could be asked to sign a form saying he or she understood the importance of the matter and were agreeing to the terms outlined. If a face-to-face meeting was the only option, then this should've been handled by department heads or deans. Employees should've been split into groups, specifically faculty and staff and supervisors and deans.
Faculty interact primarily with students and other faculty; yet, there was little talk of student relationships. The video was really more applicable to a corporate or office environment and didn't truly address very many of the issues seen in an academic environment. The last fifteen minutes of the video and meeting focused on how supervisors should investigate and handle sexual harassment issues. This portion was useless to those of us who are not decision makers.
Sexual harassment is a very important issue in the workplace, but hours of training and drills are simply not necessary. The things to remember about sexual harassment:
- Harassment is any unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
- Actions are considered harassment when they are made a term or condition of employment or employment decisions, and anytime these actions create a hostile work environment.
- Anything can be considered harassment if perceived that way. Perception supercedes intention!
Tips to avoid a sexual harassment inquiry or lawsuit:
- Do not engage in any behavior or conversation that could be considered inappropriate. If you have to wonder if it is inappropriate, then it probably is.
- Always be respectful and sensitive to others' feelings and concerns.
- If you feel harassed or see someone else being harassed, contact Human Resources. Don't wait for a situation to get out of control.
For more information on sexual harassment, view the facts at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.