Sexual harassment and the federal workplace
Sexual harassment has been back in the news with allegations of inappropriate advances by quarterback Brett Favre toward a female New York Jets employee, and with the reprise of accusations made long ago against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
While these cases have made headlines, sexual harassment remains a fact of everyday life and a problem in the government workplace. According to a recently retired federal government executive, sexual harassment cases are significantly under reported.
A young federal employee recently shared an uncomfortable, but all too real story about her own sexual harassment experience.
On her first day at work, the young fed's supervisor closed the door and said, "I didn't really hire you for this job," and then proceeded to kiss her. The woman complained to her supervisor's boss, who reprimanded the employee. In response, the supervisor told the woman that he wanted to make up for his actions by taking her away for the weekend. Thankfully, this supervisor is no longer working for the federal government.
Sexual harassment is a difficult management topic; but as a federal manager, you must be prepared to take action if you hope to build and maintain a high-performing environment.
As a starting point, let's examine how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment:
"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."
The key takeaway for a manager is that any conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment can be considered harassment.
So, what do you do to prevent sexual harassment from occurring? How do you handle a situation when one of your employees--a woman or a man--approaches you about an incident and asks for help? Here are some ideas.
• Make it clear. Employees must understand what constitutes harassment and a "hostile work environment." No one should be able to claim, "I didn't know my actions were offensive." Bring someone from outside your office to lead a discussion if necessary.
• Establish an open-door policy. There is no substitute for direct and regular communication with your team about sexual discrimination. As a leader, members of your staff should feel comfortable approaching you about anything affecting their performance, regardless of how difficult the conversation. Every interaction sends a message about your ability to listen and solve problems.
• Focus on the person as much as the problem. As tempting as it may be to simply solve the problem, remember that anyone approaching you about sexual harassment may have experienced a traumatic event. Pay particular attention to their feelings and perceptions at the moment, but also gather the facts.
• Ask for expert help if you need to take action. Depending on the circumstances, including the victim's preferences, you may be the one who needs to take action. Talk with the appropriate human resources and equal employment opportunity staff to make certain that you're doing everything appropriately-whether you're talking with the offender or the victim. If the facts warrant action, make the sanctions strong and immediate, or take it to the next level.
Whether you're a leader who's had to deal with sexual harassment, or you're an employee who resolved the issue on your own, please send me your thoughts by posting your comments online or sending an email to email@example.com.
And please check back on Wednesday, when I speak with U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen G. Mills.
November 1, 2010; 10:21 AM ET |
Ask the Federal Coach
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