In episode 18 of “The JoyPowered™ Workspace Podcast,” JoDee and Susan discuss the definition of harassment, fears of retaliation, and how to investigate allegations of harassment. They also talk about a few high-profile cases and give a listener some advice on reporting harassment.
Harassment seems to be all over the news lately; people seem to be more aware of their rights and more comfortable talking about it than they were in the past. A lot of harassment cases aren’t discussed, though. Sometimes people don’t report it because they’re afraid, because it’s not happening to them personally, or because they’re wondering if they invited it in some way.
Legally, harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct (verbal, physical, or visual) based on a person’s protected status (sex, color, race, ancestry, religion, national origin, age, physical handicap, medical condition, disability, marital status, veteran status, citizenship status, etc.). Nearly everyone qualifies for protected status, but the important thing is the unwelcome conduct, regardless of the protected status or place in the company hierarchy. We should be creating safe environments for others, and allegations of harassment should be addressed immediately.
Often, people are concerned about whether asking someone out at work is going to be unwelcome conduct; it’s tricky, but easier if one person is not working for the other one, or even if they work in entirely different departments or groups. If you are a manager and you date someone who works for you, it’s a good idea to separate into different departments or groups; you never know if the relationship might go sour, and the responsibility lies with you. You need to be extra careful that you’re not creating a quid pro quo situation where the person feels like they have to date you to keep their job.
There are several laws surrounding harassment, including the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. There are also protections under the Civil Rights Act for the person that raises a claim of harassment; if anything negative happens to that person afterward, it’s considered retaliation. If you’re an employer, you need to be very careful that nothing happens that could be construed as retaliation.
JoDee and Susan share their advice for what to do if you’re observing or experiencing harassment in your workplace. They also discuss what employers should do to handle the situation, how to go about investigating a claim of harassment, and how to communicate the findings of the investigation. Ultimately, people should always report harassment, because sometimes it just takes one spark to start a real fire of change. Employers need to think about their culture and whether they’re treating people as they should be treated.
The hosts also discuss a less-highly-publicized type of harassment: age harassment. It’s common, but typically not done with bad intentions. It may take the form of asking an older coworker when they’re going to retire, or celebrating birthdays with black balloons and “funny” gifts like rocking chairs. Some older coworkers may find it funny, but for others it can be offensive. Be careful and sensitive; you don’t always know all the facts.
In this episode’s listener mail, a man who works in a male-dominated environment wants to know how to handle coworkers’ sexually-charged comments and jokes, which make him uncomfortable. JoDee and Susan discuss the new Form I-9 that was released in September 2017.