sexual harassment

Sexual harassment refresher – set policy and stick to it

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The workshop was intended to keep county governments from getting “caught with their proverbial pants down.” “I realize that is not a good metaphor considering the topic,” said attorney Marc Fishel on the sexual harassment webinar earlier this month sponsored by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. Wood County government already makes sexual harassment part of its new employee orientation, and has policies in its employee handbook. But officials felt this was a good time for a refresher course. “We’ve been addressing this for many years,” said Pam Boyer, human resources manager with the county commissioners’ office. “This is a good reminder.” “We don’t see these things and not do something about it,” Boyer said. The webinar, titled “Top 10 Dos and Don’ts of Sexual Harassment,” was attended by 64 Wood County employees. Fishel, who regularly represents public employers throughout Ohio on employment related issues, presented the webinar. He started out stating the obvious. “Don’t have a lock on your desk that doesn’t let out a person, ala Matt Lauer.” “Don’t walk around naked in your office, ala Charlie Rose,” he said. “If you can avoid those, that’s a good start.” “Don’t invite someone to your hotel room and answer in your robe, ala Harvey Weinstein.” But beyond blatant offenses, the lines may get blurry for some people. Fishel tried to clear up any confusion. While discrimination based on sex is illegal, “there is no law that prevents sexual harassment,” he said. So it’s up to employers to make the rules. Employers need to set expectations for the workplace, enforce rules that prevent sexual harassment and respond appropriately if it does occur, Fishel said. Employers should not set the bar too low – believing that behavior is acceptable as long as it doesn’t violate the law. “You don’t want that to be your standard,” Fishel said. “The goal is to eradicate this kind of inappropriate conduct. Don’t wait till it rises to the level of ‘Oh crap – we could get sued.’” Set and stick by strong policies Employers must go further than set the right sexual harassment policies, Fishel said. They must take those policies seriously, make them clear to employees, make it easy for employees to report problems, and must not retaliate against those reporting wrongdoing. “Distribute the policy and educate the employees on the policy,” he said. Then, every so often, redistribute the policy, do re-education, and ask for questions. “Train and retrain on the policy and workplace expectations,” he said. Of course, that does not mean employers are in the clear. “If the employer does everything right, they may get sued,” Fishel said. But employers can better defend themselves if they set up safeguards against sexual harassment. Use those policies Once those policies are in place, they must be enforced. “Don’t ignore allegations or signs of a problem,” he said. “You don’t want this stuff going on in the workplace.” Once employers hear about sexual harassment problems, they must act. “Your obligation as the employer is to determine what has happened and take remedial action to fix it,” Fishel said. “You must take the action necessary to ensure the harassment ends.” Employers should not just throw up their arms, defining a problem as a “he said, she said”…


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…