Case Study: Sexual Harassment Prevention

word cloud image depicting hand with words stop harassment inside

 

Case Study: Sexual Harassment Prevention

Yesterday we discussed the importance of actually doing something about the problem of workplace harassment once a company becomes aware that the problem exists in its organization. Although we like to work with companies to ensure they promote a culture of inclusion and positive interaction before there is a problem, we realize this is not always practical. Therefore, today we discuss (with the company’s permission on the condition of anonymity) the past, present and future of sexual harassment prevention.

I was first assigned to “Q-Corp” in 2008 when a partner at my law firm was away on leave. At the time Q-Corp was a prospering company with approximately 150 employees. The executive who contacted me was (like myself) a graduate of a “fun” university where he had been a member of a fraternity and seen enough stories to fill a book. We had a brief conversation, had lunch, and played a round of golf on a Saturday to discuss the problems that were going on within his organization. The executive told me that he had promoted a culture of “work hard play hard,” and that there was a lot of in-dating going on within the office. For example, an administrative assistant was engaged to marry her boss, mailroom filers were sleeping with higher ups at weekly happy hours and drug use was rampant within the company. All that said, things were actually going well, as profits were high, bonuses were good, and the employees enjoyed the benefit of weekly parties and what he thought was a “fun” working environment.


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I explained to my contact that I had seen this type of environment before, and been a part of it myself long before I became an attorney. I warned the executive that maintaining this type of culture is a powder keg ready to explode. After a few conversations, the executive trusted my advice and asked me to develop a plan to make a sea change in the way things were done, starting with formulating a sexual harassment prevention program (my first custom job).

It is very important to understand that harassment prevention programs are not one-size-fits all. In some companies with rigid cultures and strict environments, bland rounds of simple “check the box” training can do the trick. But in most companies there is either a culture of “rowdiness” that is not going to be receptive to that sort of training, or there is going to be resistance to any sort of training at all. With Q-Corp skewing far to the left side of the spectrum I just described, I knew I needed to speak to its employees in a language they would understand. So I devised a presentation that engaged the employees in behavior they had found normal, but changed up the roles somewhat. Within minutes many members of Q-Corp’s staff were offended and outraged at seeing some of the behavior from other points of view.

From there, we developed custom manuals and breakout training sessions, and worked with Q-Corp’s employees to actually teach them that the company had to mature in order to continue its rate of success. Not everyone made it, and the company lost a number of good employees who defected to competing business who maintained a “fun” environment. But Q-Corp survived, and was a success story on making an entire organization aware of the dangers of harassment within the workplace, from the executive level down to the mailroom employees. Although the administrative assistant did marry her boss, this was the last example of a Q-Corp employee dating a supervisor, and to date the company has never faced a harassment lawsuit.

There are a number of important points in the Q-Corp case study that cannot be fleshed out in 700 or so words. For that reason, we invite you to join us in a three-part webinar series on the prevention of sexual harassment in your workplace, which is set to begin on January 23, 2018. Each webinar will be brief, at just 30 minutes in length, and you can be sure to learn tips and tricks that will prepare your company to make positive changes for the future.  CLICK THE IMAGE TO REGISTER.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance), and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of conflicts of interest within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Sexual Harassment: Self-Awareness is Key, but Only Half the Battle

 

Sexual Harassment: Self-Awareness is Key, but Only Half the Battle

Every morning a new celebrity name scrolls across the bottom of the television screen or appears in your twitter feed; and every morning the headline is the same: “XXX celebrity has been accused of sexually harassing co-workers and has been terminated from his employment.” Suddenly sex sells again, and sexual harassment has finally been put to the forefront of national media attention as the serious problem that it is.

As the number of allegations in Hollywood and Washington D.C. mount, we find lay pundits questioning why this is happening at such a high rate and constantly hammering the perpetrators in op-ed articles and television talk pieces. It is almost as if they do not realize that harassment and discrimination allegations are the #1 source of corporate litigation in America, and have been for a great many years. So now that celebrities are being accused we are self-aware. But what about the millions of women (and men) who are working in hostile environments across the country. I’ve still yet to see large-scale reports on EEOC statistics or attempts at increased awareness for “regular” employees (who make up the bulk of victims of sexual harassment in U.S. workplaces).

There is no doubt that awareness of this significant problem is a good thing. But perhaps more important than awareness is finding actual solutions to the problem.  For years, men have been in positions of power in corporate America, which created the foundation for incidents of “quid pro quo” (“this for that”) incidents of sexual harassment. Likewise, for the better part of sexual harassment laws’ existence men have dominated the workforce overall, leading to an imbalance ripe for hostile working environments that have provided us with the potential for classic examples of catcalls toward the one woman working in the mill. But the workforce is changing, so why haven’t corporate cultures?


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For the past ten years I have been working closely with companies of all sizes to prevent them from incidents of workplace misconduct that can lead to costly lawsuits. Having gotten to know different types of cultures within different industries, the overwhelming common theme that prevents companies from making true cultural change is a resistance to admitting that there is a problem for fear of upsetting the proverbial apple cart.

Until we have the opportunity to provide statistical and monetary analysis to high-level executives showing the actual costs of harassment they are always resistant to digging in and making true efforts to change their culture. But this is always the wrong approach, as a single incident of sexual harassment in the workplace can easily cost the company millions of dollars in verdict and/or settlement and opposing party attorneys fees.

I would be lying to you if I told you that I never had a client sued for sexual harassment. However, we have developed a proven method for reducing incidents of harassment in the workplace, and therefore can unequivocally say that those companies that have worked with us have demonstrable success in largely preventing these types of lawsuits across the board. With that in mind, Syntrio strongly urges you and your representatives to join us in a series of three webinars in 2018 providing the overview of a plan for changing your culture in the hopes that you will work with us to eliminate harassment in the workplace. The first such webinar will take place on January 23, 2018, and you can register for it by CLICKING HERE OR ON THE IMAGE BELOW.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance), and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of conflicts of interest within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Six Women Accuse Orange County, California Democratic Party of Sexual Harassment

Six Women Accuse Orange County, California Democractic Party of Sexual Harassment

As part of the nationwide social media #MeToo campaign, wherein women across the country are standing together by admitting they were victims of sexual harassment at some point in the past, several women have accused the Orange County Democratic party and the County Labor Union of sexual abuse and harassment. The incidents allegedly occurred in 2015 and complain of incidents by two men (including a democratic congressional candidate).

In one account of a 2015 incident, a woman claims that one of the men touched her thigh, causing her to flee in fear. Similarly, other accounts state that men allegedly pushed up against other women and attempted to remove their underwear. All of the women claim they did not report the incidents at the time because they felt powerless to do so.

In response to the allegations, the party claims it will offer training for its members and organizations, and will also implement a code of conduct to prevent further incidents from occurring within the party and among its candidates and volunteers.  Given the high-profile accusations against large-scale democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, it appears these latest allegations may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scandal within political party regional offices.


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People often think of sexual harassment prevention training as isolated to traditional workplaces. But as the incidents above illustrate, volunteer situations like campaign offices, charity work, and other non-traditional work environments are also ripe for harassment due to the wide variety of power imbalances and transient nature of the work. People often think they can behave inappropriately because they will not see their victims after a finite period of time, and this sort of mentality is simply wrong and illegal.

Victims should be encouraged to report incidents of abuse and harassment immediately. Once these incidents are reported, victims should also be encouraged to involve the authorities where (as here) the conduct is criminal in nature. Simply sweeping incidents under the rug are what perpetuates a culture of fear and self-blame, and all too often incidents go unreported. There have been over 12 million status changes to #MeToo since actress Alyssa Milano started the campaign, and women are now feeling empowered to report illegal misconduct in the workplace and in the public at large.

It is up to employers and organizations to instill cultural safeguards prohibiting harassment and encouraging the reporting of any such misconduct. Now that we are seeing the sheer number of incidents that go unreported, we must ensure that women (and men) feel empowered to come forward when bosses, co-workers, and other people at their place of work or volunteer sites act in such a despicable manner.


Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of compliance violations within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Tesla Sued for Sexual Orientation Harassment

Tesla Sued for Sexual Orientation Harassment

Auto-maker Tesla has been sued for sexual orientation harassment in Northern California by a former contractor at one of its facilities.  According to the lawsuit, the contractor claims he was fired from his position at Tesla after he complained to managers that he was being harassed due to his sexual orientation. The former contractor, who is gay, alleged that he was taunted by the man who trained him and subjected to abusive comments and behavior due to his sexual orientation. One such incident, described in the lawsuit, states that the contractor was told to “watch his back” by the man that trained him, and threats were made to the contractor’s personal property and well-being.

Tesla responded to the lawsuit, claiming there has never been a single case of discrimination proven against the company. The company also states that the individual who filed the lawsuit did not work for Tesla (rather for a staffing agency), and neither did the man accused of harassment. The company stressed that it was named in order to garner publicity for the lawsuit and that it did not engage in any illegal conduct.

It is important to note that this is not the first discrimination or harassment filed against Tesla, and not even the first this month.  Earlier in October, an African-American man sued Tesla for discrimination and harassment in one of its plants, alleging that he was harassed and retaliated against due to his race. 


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Statements such as Tesla’s strong denial and vow to vigorously defend itself against false lawsuits, (combined with the indication that neither of the individuals involved in the alleged sexual orientation harassment worked for the company), are a standard denial, yet paint the company’s sensitivity to discrimination and harassment in a very negative light. Focusing on the fact that no discrimination or harassment lawsuit has ever been successful against the company merely draws conclusions that the company would rather settle such lawsuits and maintain its public image than truly ensure that all individuals are provided with a working environment free from any tolerance to discrimination and harassment.  Indeed, the company’s statements read more of annoyance than of disgust for any such potential behavior on its campuses.

As you can see, the need for training in harassment and discrimination runs deeper than just the legal issues involved with such behavior. How companies respond, and the cultures they attempt to create have a significant impact on the stigma (or lack thereof) resulting from allegations of harassment or discrimination. Syntrio’s training programs focus on empathy and cultural change, and seek to prevent PR disasters like the storm circling around Tesla today.


Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of compliance violations within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

California Expands Harassment Training Requirements

California Expands Harassment Training Requirements

On October 15, 2017, California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 396 into law. SB 396 expands the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) mandate that employers with 50 or more employee provide bi-annual training on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.  As of January 1, 2018, employers subject to FEHA’s mandatory sexual harassment training requirements must ensure that the training programs they provide educate employees on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

It is extremely important to note that gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation have been protected employment classes in the State of California for a number of years. With this in mind, harassment on the basis of any of these categories has been (and will continue to be) illegal under State law. Given the illegality of such behavior, many companies (including Syntrio) long ago took a proactive approach to training on these categories, as they fall within the penumbra of “harassment based on sex” that has always been important to educate employers about.

Gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation have become extremely hot topics in employment law in recent years, as all too many employers have ignored harassment on the basis of such characteristics in lieu of a reduction in traditional male to female sex harassment. This is a huge mistake given the number of incidents of harassment “based on sex” that occur in California workplaces in today’s day and age, and a mistake that SB396 attempts to formally correct.

Going forward we can expect to see even greater expansion into the two-hour training requirement set forth in California’s FEHA, which is a positive in terms of reduction in harassment lawsuits, yet a requirement that places a substantial time burden on businesses of all sizes.  For this reason, Syntrio synthesizes its discussion of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation, pointing out that such behavior is illegal (and using practical examples), into a wider discussion on the topic of “harassment based on sex” as a whole.  We firmly believe that a streamlined discussion of these topics (while focusing on the core issues of their damaging nature) is the best way for managers to gain context of their importance while not taking up more time than is required by the state statute.

Syntrio’s methods of workplace harassment prevention training are how it became the leading provider of this type of training in the State of California. When other companies are touting their newly expanded courseware you can be confident that Syntrio was well ahead of the SB396 curve in including this material in its two-hour courseware before it was required by the State.


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Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of compliance violations within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio