Monday, December 18th, 2017

Jottings on Sexual Harrassment in Business

What to do about this new wave of sexual harassment put me back into HR policy days.I have jotted down the beginning of my thoughts for, well, for the discipline of it.

Goal: To have a relaxed informal AND productive and profitable work culture that manages work relationships to be respectful, to be accountable for the impact of behavior, to give power and safety to associates to voice concerns, and to enjoy working with one another.


Sexuality is an element of being human that needs guidelines in the workplace. It is an intimate aspect of life and the workplace can be social, caring, and built on relationships but not complicated by intimate sexual relationships that are automatically unfair and awkward in the workplace.

At this point in time, organizations are structured through power. Power rules, literally. The formal hierarchy or org chart defines who has power over whom. Power that is used as the basis of organizational health and productivity can spill over into the the intimate area of sex and, yes, love. Guidelines are needed.


Anyone who is uncomfortable with touch or talk at work is asked to let the offending  person know of their impact through writing, copying  the note to Human Resources as a notification of unwanted touch or talk. A second report of the same behavior will automatically create a face to face conversation with the person doing the unwanted talk or touch with an HR rep to explore the seriousness of the concern and to clarify what behavior has to stop and to give notice to possible job loss. A third report of the same behavior results in job loss.

There is also a confidential hotline for situations that are extreme and dangerous. Any call received on the hotline triggers  an immediate and  formal response and investigation by HR reps with possible immediate job loss of the offender.

There are relatonships that are consensual and do not fall into the category of sexual harassment. But because of the intimate nature and the possible invovlement the power of a top role, this is a perceived and sometimes real threat to fairness in the workplace. If there is a reporting of a  relationship, then that has to be changed. Both people are advised to be more private with the relationship at work due to the possibility of skewed power and also to be exaggerated in overt  fairness of decisions in hiring and promotion. If fairness has been or is compromised, then the person in the most powerful role will lose his or her job.

Rather than spell out each and every possible offense of talk or touch, we ask people to speak up first and immediately about any offense. This both empowers the offended person and allows for learning about impact of behavior for the person who gave offense. This “policy” relies on an HR cadre of good judgment and knowledge of the law and that are able to wor without  being influenced by power. A strong HR executive is essential.

Caveat: Today we are hearing most about sexual harrassment in the entertainment industry and in the political arena. I used to hear people complain about “Corporate America” when I was a top executive. I want to go on record to say that during this time of institutional renewal (especially religion and government) that Corporate America does a better job about eliminating  sexual harassment because it understands that productivity and profit need a healthy work environment.










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