In a village far far away….there was a lovely girl named Belle. She wandered into a dark forest and found herself in a castle with a Beast. She thought it would be an incredible journey, she was wrong. The Queen met Belle at networking event and the topic of sexual harassment came up. In my world it always does. “So when the Beast asks Belle ‘Doesn’t that girl have a great @#&*’ or ‘My, you smell fabulous’” Belle asked me, “Was that sexual harassment?” Well I can honestly say there is no grey area with that Beast. But unfortunately, there is always gray area in the forest.
I asked Belle if she reported it to HR, and she explained that there was no HR department and she didn’t know about a procedure to report such things. In the world of employees you must have a policy. It’s my second blog, are you tired of hearing me say that yet? If in your Kingdom you don’t tell your employees how to report something and they don’t, it’s your fault, not theirs. You may think, “I would never do that” so it’s not a problem. What about the touchy guy that you order supplies from? Or the client who loves to call Belle “Sweetie”? What about the delivery person who loves off color jokes? Sexual harassment isn’t about just sex. It could be about anything that makes someone uncomfortable. If someone feels they are in a “hostile work environment” and they tell you about it, you need to address the situation. If you don’t have a policy, they can leave and report it to different governmental agencies or their attorney. You can answer “They didn’t report it”, but if Belle doesn’t know how to report it IN WRITING, it’s on you. If you can show your policy with instructions on reporting and your “no retaliation policy” with HER SIGNATURE, you are in much better shape.
Sexual Harassment is like a line made out of an evil snake. It moves around, back and forth and changes each day. Something someone has been fine with for years may change. Once Belle decides that she is not comfortable, it is your responsibility to stop it. The Beast has to conform, within reason. Once that line is drawn, it cannot be crossed. The Beast has been notified and if the complaint has been found to be valid, changes need to be made. Some complaints you will find not valid, but you have to investigate all of them and be able to prove that you were thorough, fair and consistent. You should have forms (there I go again) for complaints so you follow the same procedure each time you have a situation. This will be important if you need to prove you tried to rectify a situation.
Some things you will find ridiculous, it doesn’t matter. Once Upon a time …I was called into a castle to discuss a “Naked Picture” that this princess was being forced to look at each day on the evil ogre’s desk. I went in with my forms certain Shrek had a picture of Fiona in all of her glory. What I found was a picture of Shrek’s naked one month old baby girl being held by Fiona in the air showing her naked shoulders and arms. The princess was so offended, when Shrek went to meetings; she put different outfits on the baby and Fiona. A turf war began between the two. What started as funny became World War III. Everyone took sides between the princess and the naked baby! Sometimes common sense doesn’t prevail! I had to ask Shrek to please take his picture down, because it was bothering the princess and had become an uncomfortable situation for all at work. Never mind in the back, donkey had been working at that blacksmith for 30 years and the pictures he had around made even the Queen blush and no complaint was made. We took the opportunity to wipe clean all the offensive material and rolled out Sexual Harassment Training for the entire castle and had everyone sign the new policy. The princess felt validated and the workplace was able to return to a non-hostile environment.
The Forest of Business has so many twists and turns. You need to make sure you are prepared for all situations. Policy Policy Policy is my mantra, you don’t want to develop one in reaction to a bad situation. You want to have one to prevent a bad situation. You are never too small to protect your Kingdom!