What a year it has been for harassment claims. The biggest year in the 22 years I have been practicing law. It seems that every day there is a big new headline or rejuvenated social media campaign, and someone else powerful losing their job over harassment allegations.
It is astounding to me that there are so many issues, even after AB 1825 was passed back in 2004 mandating harassment prevention training in California. That statute was expanded to require training on bullying and abusive conduct in 2015 (AB 2053). And now, as of January 1, 2018, it will need to include training on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation (SB 396). With increased protections for transgender employees under California law, training to increase tolerance and understanding surrounding those issues will be particularly important.
Training certainly hasn’t fixed the harassment issue. But since training is mandatory for any business with over 50 employees, it might as well be meaningful. That is why I try to focus my training on real life stories and anecdotes that get people out of their own head (and point of view), and into the head of the victim. One of the main themes is always that harassment is based on perception, not intent; so it is possible to unintentionally harass someone, in fact it happens all of the time. For example, someone may think a compliment, sexual innuendo, or even a direct pass is flattery, but as the millions of “me too” posts reflect, that may not be how such conduct is perceived by the recipient. Especially when there is a power differential at play.
David Schwimmer’s series of #that’sharassment videos provide realistic (and disturbing) examples of how harassment resonates in workplaces, and how it feels to the recipient.
In my career I have seen many talented and valuable managers lose their jobs due to inappropriate behavior that violated harassment policies. In my training, I tell all managers that doing a great job is not a defense to a harassment claim, and won’t protect them. That message certainly rings true based on recent headlines.
California employers can expect all of the news about harassment claims to keep bringing even more issues to the surface. The proverbial pot has been stirred.
And as current events have shown, taking prompt action to correct and prevent harassment is critical. There have been enough headlines about harassment in 2017, don’t let the next one be about your company. Let’s put an end to the me too’s.