By Jim Marco
How does the New York state sexual harassment policy and training rules for employers change the workplace?
Truthfully, it depends. Good companies have had policies, investigation procedures and training programs in place for decades. That’s right, decades. But the landscape has changed, so employers, even the ones with good policies and programs, should take this opportunity to re-commit to a workplace free from unlawful discrimination and harassment.
They should communicate clear expectations to their employees about how staff are expected to behave, how they are expected to engage and communicate with each other, and how they are expected to problem solve when an issue does arise so we are not escalating what may be a simple misunderstanding. Civility, mutual respect and clear communication can go a long way and truly become fundamental pillars of an outstanding workplace culture.
And what about #MeToo and other similar movements that have brought this issue to the forefront, with examples such as Harvey Weinstein and more clearly criminal behavior like the Olympic gymnasts? Are men always the villains?
As I read the articles and news headlines, I think about situations I have seen in my own career. As an HR director, the first person I ever terminated for sexual harassment was a female manager, and she was actually fired for retaliation, we hadn’t even started the investigation.
Throughout my career, I have investigated, sanctioned, and fired both men and women. Fact is, if one studies the actual definition of sexual harassment, it is not defined by the gender of the person perpetrating the conduct, it is defined solely by the conduct itself. This means that men can actually harass men, women can harass women, men can harass women and women can harass men.
Am I trying to let men off the hook? Well, we got this reputation somehow, and we need to consciously engage in, even lead with behavior that makes it clear we don’t want this reputation any longer.
I have had a 30-year career in human resources because, in my first HR role, I had an outstanding supervisor, mentor and friend. This mentor was female and my career has been shaped and enriched by the many female colleagues, managers, vice presidents, leaders and CEOs that I have had the privilege to work for and with.
And in respect for what my first “boss” did for me, I have tried to “pay it forward” and be a mentor for women who have chosen to pursue careers in human resources.
Over a decade ago, my company developed a sexual harassment prevention training program that has served our clients well and that has stood the test of time. In fact, our program not only meets, but actually exceeds the new standards that are becoming effective in New York. It has been reviewed by top labor law attorneys and received their endorsement.
The interactive part of the program comes from real-life examples assembled over a 30 year career. If the idea of developing a training program from the ground up seems daunting, perhaps we should talk.
Marco is president and principal consultant, with Saratoga Human Resources Solutions Inc.