County to address sexual harassment in workplace

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

In response to the growing outcry against sexual harassment in the workplace, Wood County government will soon be hosting a workshop for its employees.

The webinar is being offered by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, and will cover the “Top Ten Dos and Don’ts for Sexual Harassment.” The program is being created by attorney Marc Fishel, who regularly represents public employers throughout Ohio on employment related issues.

“Their emphasis is going to be – how do we keep public offices from getting into trouble,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. “Are there things you have been doing over time that might get you in trouble?”

Though the CCAO promotion material for the webinar said the presentation will review “the most crucial areas that an employer should focus on in order to avoid claims of sexual harassment,” Kalmar said the emphasis will be on avoiding not just the claims, but the actual sexual harassment.

“It will focus on how to make sure the culture of your workplace is respectful to all,” he said.

The webinar will also discuss how to investigate alleged misconduct, and how to discipline employees if they engage in improper conduct.

In a recent article on sexual harassment, Fishel defined the term and gave examples.

Sexual harassment is severe or pervasive conduct that can take many forms, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and inappropriate sexual comments or references. Often, sexual harassment is physical, verbal or visual and involves an express or implied expectation that harassing actions must be tolerated in order to get or keep a job. Such an expectation also may be considered “sexual harassment” when used to make employment decisions (e.g., giving raises or promotions), or when inappropriate sexual behavior creates a hostile or intimidating work environment,” Fishel wrote.

As far as examples, Fishel wrote,Generally, circumstances determine whether conduct is considered sexual harassment. Examples may include sexual teasing, jokes or comments, massages or sexual touching, certain personal gifts, the display of sexually suggestive material and personal questions about an individual’s sexual life. But note that “sexual harassment” does not need to be lewd or sexual in nature to be illegal. Any severe or pervasive harassment aimed at a person because of his or her gender is considered sexual harassment. Further, a woman subjected to constant physical or verbal bullying and hostility because she is a woman may bring a claim of sexual harassment even if the harassment is not sexually explicit.”

No county employees will be forced to attend, but all managers and supervisors will be expected to be there, Kalmar said.

“If we offer a training, it’s my expectation that you will be there,” he said of his department.

The webinar will take place in the county commissioners’ hearing room, which can hold approximately 70 people.

Kalmar said the county’s showing of the webinar is not an indicator that the county has sexual harassment problems.

“It’s certainly not rampant. My guess is it’s rare,” he said. “I think the county offices are a pretty good place to work. But it’s good to have it refreshed periodically.”

The subject is currently addressed by a policy in the employee handbooks – “as with any other issue you might have,” Kalmar said. The first step is to bring the problem to the notice of a supervisor, or go to the next level if the supervisor is the problem.

“You can go to any level you think would handle it properly,” he said.

Bowling Green city government conducts annual training for supervisors and managers that covers sexual harassment and other harassment in the workplace, according to Joe Fawcett, assistant municipal administrator.

So far, the city has not planned any changes to its training, but may add to the program if it is deemed necessary. “We’re always evaluating the effectiveness of such trainings,” Fawcett said.

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