Forbidding employees to date for fear of sexual harassment complaints, is not likely to produce the results a company really needs.
"Workplace romance is at a 10-year low: 36% of US workers say they’ve dated a coworker, down from 41% in 2016, according to CareerBuilder. And amid recent sexual harassment scandals, many employers are reconsidering their dating policies. “There's an overall awareness that has permeated the workplace, and people are being more cautious,” career coach Barbara Safani told CNBC. Is dating a coworker a recipe for professional disaster? - LinkedIn's Daily Rundown has an interesting post: Is Dating a Coworker a good Idea?
Wow - we are having this discussion everywhere, aren't we?!
Some of our clients (Human Resources leaders) are deeply concerned and rightly so. Many are reviewing their dating policies, shoring up their anti-discrimination workplace training and their sexual harassment awareness workplace training programs. Many companies are reviewing their written policies, crafting solid workflows for handling the predictable increase in complaints, and documenting exactly how to ensure appropriate, prompt investigation, accountability of harassers, as well as how exactly they will defend the innocent or not.
Recently, we've had some critical conversations with our clients. Some of whom are taking action deliberately and throwing out their old ways of dealing with the issue. Others are still hanging on to the hope that the way they've always dealt with complaints will continue to be sufficient.
It's interesting, some are justifying inaction for fear of kick'n up dust. Here's just a few of the comments I've heard:
"What happens if we spotlight "Sexual Harassment in the Workplace" and we stir a hornet's nest?"
"We don't want to wake that sleeping giant. We want a good defense. We want to be able to have evidence we communicated our anti-sexual harassment policy; but we don't want to educate them too much."
"Our executives are the more traditional types. They have an old-fashioned view that it's just not wise to make a big fuss out of this. They are afraid we'll cause more harm than good."
If you're in HR or responsible for strategic employee decisions, then your work is to make the case for an appropriate and pro-active response to what's coming. Your executives will want the data. They will need to see and understand the trends to understand what's happening and what's about to happen in all businesses of all shapes and sizes. Fortunately for you, it won't be that difficult because the data is everywhere. You may, however, have to press the issue for action now, as opposed to later.
What NOT to do:
- Don't Ignore the Facts. (Start with EEOC's own report)
- Anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
- 2017 saw a 1600 case increase and $136 Million dollars more ordered to be paid out than the highest payout year before. That's an average of $85,000 per case.
- In 2017, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated 99,109 cases of discrimination and harassment charges and ordered $484 Million be paid out.
- Don't Ignore Your Workplace Culture and What You Know to be True.
- Male dominated industries in particular should look their workplace culture in the face and respond proactively. Whether HR believes they can change the culture or not, is not what's important. Examples of male dominated industries include construction, oil and gas, mining, public administration and safety, transportation, warehousing, information security, actuaries, biomedical, agricultural engineers, etc.
- Don't bother forbidding workplace dating.
- Single employees spend 75% or more of their lives at work and according to a Bustle.com article and Match.com's Single in America study, 35% of people have dated someone they work with; 65% of them have had one-night stands with co-workers and 56% have had a friends-with-benefits relationship with coworkers. Forbidding employees from following their inborn instincts to form meaningful, romantic relationships may have a modest impact on the goal. However, it's not going to be enough to make up for the price of turnover due to restrictive policies that forbid our natural inclinations. Employees will just keep their affections for their co-worker on the down-low, while they look for a more reasonable place to work.
- Don't be Random.
- Predetermine how HR will police your policies. Look into the future and pre-determine your policies. For example, what will happen when a valued leader breaks the rules and is forgiven but your front-line employee is fired?
- Don't Wait.
- "Many companies won’t take their obligation to provide a workplace free of harassment seriously until they are slammed in the pocketbook." - Curt Surls, a plaintiff's lawyer and workplace investigator, said in a Law.com interview.
Need to make a case for a more robust sexual harassment awareness and prevention training, or your anti-discrimination training? Schedule a complimentary, FAST PASS STRATEGY SESSION with one of our experts. Or inquire into how we can customize one of our Sexual Harassment in the Workplace training programs for your employees and managers.