Sexual Harassment Avoid Pitfalls
The Christmas Party and Sexual Harassment
The office Christmas party is management’s thank you to workers for keeping the ship afloat and for them to learn more about each other in a relaxed space with the help of food and drinks. Usually, wives, husbands and lovers are not invited.
The year-end party can also be a swamp for men who might later on be accused of sexual harassment, especially if they are immediate bosses or CEO’s, because sexual harassment has always been about power. The office is a male domain traditionally. That is why more men are accused of sexual harassment than women.
There are women in top management yes. Their positions come with power, which could be interpreted as sexual harassment by junior male staff but we will shelve that for now because they are relatively few in the workplace.
The following definition is taken from the website under it.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, sexual harassment is “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.”
A sexual harassment accusation is every working man’s nightmare, the same way it is a reality for women in 2016. That is why most male managers are cautious around women in the workplace, and they should step up the caution because sexual harassment is like the postman’s bag.
A letter is written, the postman delivers it, and someone reads it. How the letter is understood is the crux of the matter. Touching and mauling a female worker is beyond sexual harassment. It is plain criminal. Forget all the movies you saw with people having sex on desks.
Maybe e-mails would be a better example than letters, because they are work tools. A string of e-mails might be regarded as having sexual connotations.
Sexual harassment aside, everything that is written down on a piece of paper, a text, e-mail Facebook, Twitter etc. is potential evidence in a court case or disciplinary hearing.
Job descriptions outline how managers are supposed to manage their teams, but there is no bible to help male managers avoid sexual harassment allegations. Most companies have a policy on sexual harassment, but they cannot define it because every situation is unique.
What are men supposed to do then? It might be harsh, but the best route or modus operandi (MO) might be, no comment.
It sounds ludicrous because the work place or office is a mixed bag of official communication and social chit chat about the weather, bumper to bumper traffic, latest frappuccino, kids, vacation and new hairstyles. Male managers should stop right there.
Women comment on each other’s hair colour change and hairstyles all the time. Male managers should avoid that because it might lead to sexual harassment allegations in the long run. Touching the hair is definitely a no-no.
It might sound trivial, but it is necessary advice because some men think saying ‘Great new hairdo’ is harmless. It’s just small talk, but it is how the comment is received over time, that might result in perceived sexual harassment.
Women's Office Clothes
The no comment MO also applies to clothes. In Canada, the U.S. and Europe women wear whatever they like in the office, unless they are flight attendants or nurses. Religion and culture also determines what women wear at work.
Male managers should be careful about the comments they make because they might be fodder for sexual harassment allegations.
That dress looks good on you.
That blouse is hot!
This is even more lethal because in some cases men have won cases because judges ruled that women invited the rape through what they were wearing.
Although office workers don’t have a uniform like the army or navy, there is usually a certain dress code in effect, and a manager can talk to an employee privately and caution her if the manager feels that the way she dresses is not in keeping with the dress code. The talk should be recorded on tape or cellphone to protect both parties from future accusations.
Companies have name tags for a variety of reasons. The first one is accountability.
Customers should know who they are dealing with on behalf of the company. Did employees provide stellar service or were they rude to the public and co-workers?
Constantly calling women sweetie, darling or dear is nurturing a sexual harassment allegation. These are terms of endearment used at home and have no place in the office. All human beings have names. That is why companies provide name tags to show respect for those names.
Same Race and Sexual Harassment
Male managers of the same race as women they manage should be extra careful of their actions because there is no keep it in the family, when it comes to sexual harassment.
If the boss makes sexual jokes and sends her porn videos, a brave woman will not keep quiet because they are the same race or are from the same country, before they came to North America. Brave, because most sexual harassment is not reported.
Women love their jobs and stay put, despite the discomfort. They grin and bear it because they feel they should not be sent to the unemployment line for something that is not performance related. Women don’t report sexual harassment because they are not sure how their spouses will react, should they file a case. Every reason is personal.
Anita Hill, an African American woman lawyer was asked the same question in 1991. Why did she stay when she felt that Clarence Thomas was sexually harassing her?
Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Case
HBO aired Confirmation, a movie about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in April 2016. Kerry Washington, of Scandal fame, is the producer and she also played Anita Hill. Here is a synopsis.
- · In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a federal circuit judge, to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate conducted the usual hearings to decide if the nominee was fit for the position.
- · All seemed to be going well for Clarence Thomas, until an FBI report about Anita Hill was leaked to the press.
- · The Senate asked her to testify. Unfortunately, most media stories say she went out to destroy another black man who was going somewhere with his career. Very few media reports mention she did not prompt appearing before the Senate. The Senate called her based on the FBI report.
- · During the Senate hearings on television, Anita Hill gave examples of the sexual harassment when Clarence Thomas was her boss at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
- · The Senate voted in favour of Clarence Thomas and he was confirmed as a Justice of the Supreme Court.
After all is said and done, the guaranteed way of avoiding sexual harassment is for male managers to see women's job descriptions when they interact with them. Everybody is in the office to work.
- · She is the Human Resources Manager.
- · She is the I.T. Manager.
- · She is my Executive Assistant.
This approach will help men because sexual harassment allegations do not have an expiry date like milk. Allegations against Bill Cosby, comedian and star of The Cosby Show, former president Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, the next U.S. president are a case in point.