The Hostile Work Environment

With the recent release of Anita, the documentary about Anita Hill and the hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, I’m reminded of the importance of vigilance in our workplace.

We are all responsible for that vigilance.

Anita’s case was clearly sexual harassment; it’s defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It was sexual harassment, it was discrimination, and it was a Hostile Work Environment.

I’ve experienced this kind of discrimination personally. I’ve left jobs (without another to go to) because of a complete asshole who wouldn’t leave me alone; and I stayed in a job (albeit for a short time) after I reported it.

It’s what happens when you report it that's a game-changer – and that’s where the proof of a company’s culture (and their commitment to follow the law) really shows.

Harassment comes in many forms. The notion of a superior asking another out for a date and retaliating when rebuffed is an easy one to figure out.

But there are so many other subtle and not-so-subtle ways to be the unfortunate recipient of offending behavior.

From offensive language, to an outright demand for quid pro quo, the range is large (however identifiable). Women as well as men can offend. And the bottom line, I’ve heard many times is this: would you talk to, or treat your mother or sister; or father or brother that way?

In other words, would you treat your closest family member like something that can be used-up, publicly humiliated, or required to perform what others would never find acceptable?

Are you uncomfortable?

We use The Reasonable Person Standard. How would the average person react or respond to the actions of another in your typical workplace? What is the acceptable norm?

If it feels wrong, if you are humiliated, if others around you can see what’s happening and feel uncomfortable, perhaps there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

It’s really scary to go to your HR department and tell them that your boss or colleague is doing something that you find offensive and won’t quit, doesn’t take a hint; or worse, thinks that their behavior is actually quite acceptable.

For most of us, the daily routine is just that. But when there is an individual who (there’s a range here): makes you wince when they make a comment, to all-out flagrant violation of their employee’s rights (or colleagues for that matter), then you have a serious issue that must be addressed.

Every company in this U. S. of A. is required by law to not only abide by, but educate their employees and enforce the laws that protect them.

Most of us who join a company are at the very least, given a handbook or view a video on rules of the company, anti-discrimination policies, and required to sign a form that we have read, understood and will comply with those laws.

That is where the “known or should have known” standard (superior or commander responsibility) comes into play.

Every company must have policies (and that education I just mentioned) in place so that if you witness discrimination, or even think you have witnessed discrimination, you must report it, and that you know how to report it – without fear of retaliation.

Maintain a zero-tolerance policy. If it feels wrong, it usually is wrong. Even in the advertising or marketing environment, where we are challenged to be ‘creative’, there are limits.

Speak out when you’re uncomfortable or are a witness to something that is just plain wrong.

If they fire you for pointing out the obvious, they’re not worth working for. They don’t deserve you.

And a little reminder, if you don’t speak up, you are a party to the problem.

I leave you with a quote:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.