Tag Archives: workplace

Avoiding Women Is No #MeToo Answer—Good Training, Messaging Is

Men cannot engage in discriminatory avoidance as a strategy to avoid sexual harassment claims.   How do we mitigate this very real risk?  My latest blog for Bloomberg:

As a result of the “great awakening” in 2017 with regard to the persistent and pervasive nature of sexual harassment (and worse), responsible employers are doing even more to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct. As we all know by now, no industry is immune.

Of course, women can harass men and there can be same-sex harassment. But, in the vast majority of cases, high profile or otherwise, it is a man of power inflicting professional, psychological and/or physical harm on a woman or women.

But now many men now feel they are the ones who are at risk. Afraid of being the target of false allegations or of being misconstrued, some men are simply avoiding women at all costs.

Avoid “at all costs” risk is not limited to Wall Street. Again, no industry is immune!

The risk was not unforeseeable. To the contrary, it was quite predictable as I noted in my article for Bloomberg in 2017.

While we should not coddle men (or women), we need to address the anxiety that some men feel. Otherwise, where leadership is male dominated, women ultimately may pay the price in terms of lost opportunities and employers may lose the benefit of their talent.

What can and should employers do?

1. Be more thoughtful on messages in training and otherwise.

Messaging matters. More specifically, for example, make clear:

  • Harassing behavior will not be tolerated, even if not “bad enough” to be illegal. But avoid “zero tolerance” messaging which may be heard as suggesting any infraction is cause for discharge. This is not the case but may provide further fuel for avoidance.
  • Every complainant will be treated respectfully; every complaint will be treated seriously; no deference will be given to the power of a person engaging in bad behavior, etc. But do not say “victims will be believed.” The negative implication for the accused is obvious: “I will have no chance to defend myself.” Foreseeable reaction: avoid those who may create this untenable possibility. Plus, the fact is not every complaint is true (or as alleged).
  • The absence of a bad intent is not a defense to bad behavior. But don’t go as far as to suggest that an employee’s perception (impact) alone determines whether behavior may be harassing. Extreme fear fodder may shut down human interactions, with women potentially paying a bigger price in organizations where men have disproportionate power.

2. Avoid avoidance.

Employers need to be very specific in their training programs and otherwise that avoidance by men of women is not an acceptable strategy for avoiding harassment claims. There is a word for such avoidance: discrimination.

But it is not enough to make the statement. Employer need to provide guidance on safe inclusion. Here are but a few examples:

Office Doors

No, it is not okay to leave the door open for meetings with women but have closed door meetings with men. Think of the insider-outsider message.

Open or closed? Look at circumstances and not chromosomes.

Social Inclusion

Yes, bars can be a bad scene for workplace interactions. Alcohol is a risk factor, and some bars are worse than others.

But don’t leave women behind because you are concerned about the environment. Change the environment. Try coffee houses, instead.

Business Dinners

Yes, there may be times when a leader may need to have a dinner with a report, particularly if the leader travels a lot. But could that invitation be seen as a request for a date?

Better to avoid the dinner if the invite could be misconstrued? No! That denies the excluded employee the benefits that go with inclusion.

Lunch may be better but, when dinner is necessary or better, be thoughtful: explain the business purpose; invite the employee to pick the time and place; limit the alcohol, etc. You might even think of a gentle way to signal you have done the same with others.


This is a big one: fear of travel. Of course, mixed-gender teams can travel together.

Please, women and men don’t need to stay in separate hotels. The issue is not hotels, but hotel rooms, which can be better thought of as bedrooms. Rule of thumb: stay out of the bedrooms of colleagues and don’t have them in yours.

Again, this applies without regard to gender. There is the insider/outsider problem if based on gender. Plus, let’s not forget same sex harassment or the fear of same.

Need to meet up? Try the lobby!

We need to address these granular issues not only in training but also day to day if we see or become aware of possible discriminatory avoidance. Beyond the scope of this article, we need to focus on steps to overcome avoidance in the context of mentoring.

3. Develop systems to address access issues.

The boys club is alive and well and fear of harassment allegations has resulted in some clubs putting additional locks on the doors. Need guardrails to break the locks.

No one size fits all but employers need to develop guardrails to prevent leaders from working only with those they feel most comfortable or safest. Implicit bias may become explicit bias because of the fear of being accused of sexual harassment.

But we must do more than establish guardrails to ensure equal opportunity to necessary and/or plum assignments, meetings, etc. We must monitor what occurs and take corrective where there is evidence that anyone is being denied opportunities for discriminatory reasons.

While I acknowledge the issue broadly, I and we should not dilute the message by failing to focus on core issue: men cannot engage in discriminatory avoidance as a strategy to avoid sexual harassment claims.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

This article is not legal advice, should not be constructed as applying to specific factual situations or as establishing an attorney-client relationships.

Political HR Tale in Wacky World of Election 2016

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog regarding the upcoming election and the workplace.

In less than two months, the Presidential election will take place. You are thinking about that when you see your receptionist wearing a button for her political candidate.

You ask her to remove it because you have customers of diverse political views. She says “NO,” promising to file a case with the Supreme Court because you are violating her First Amendment rights. Note to SCOTUS: we hope you enjoy her as much as we do.

Well, First Amendment restrictions do not apply to private employers. The First Amendment restricts only government action. So you nicely tell your employee either the button goes or she goes. She walks off the job. Note to file: discuss reserve for litigation.

You continue down the hallway and you see two employees wearing buttons for opposing candidates:

-A Clinton supporter’s button talks about need for paid parental leave.

-A Trump supporter’s button talks about religious liberty and Obamacare.

Thinking of the First Amendment, you tell both employees: off with the buttons. And the NLRB responds: off with your heads.

If political buttons relate to terms and conditions of employment, they may be protected under the NLRB. I won’t say anything negative about the NLRB, even though the NLRB seems fond of disparagement as they attack non-disparagement clauses!

You go to your office and you hear two employees fighting over the election. Neither can believe their colleague would consider voting for the other candidate. Time to play referee.

Just focus on the disruptions without regard to the content. The NLRB probably would allow employers to focus on the disruption, if substantial, even if the issues discussed were work-related. I say probably because, as you well know, this NLRB has defined employee rights very broadly and management rights narrowly…

You go back to your office and you close the door. The phone rings: a manager asks if he allows an employee to solicit for one candidate during his working time, does he have to grant equal access to another employee soliciting for the other candidate during her working time?

You reach into your pocket and take a pill. Yes, it was lawfully prescribed after the last holiday party.

Neither federal nor most state or local laws consider political affiliation a protected group. But forget the law: you don’t want to alienate a sizable portion of your workers, customers or business partners.

But allowing solicitation uniformly is not the answer to this question. Your uniform exception to your no-solicitation rule during the employee’s working time now allows employees to solicit uniformly for unions during their working time. Oh what a web the law weaves.

After you talk with the manager, she asks you, as a friend: whom do you favor? You think of changing the topic to something less controversial—your sex life—but the thought is just that.

Temperatures are hot and they will get only hotter. When the election is over, you need to work together. People often feel attacks on candidates as attacks on them.

So, respond only if you have a strong relationship with the person that is beyond merely professional and you are confident you both can survive knowing you may vote differently. Don’t be too confident.

You breathe deeply and begin to relax until you hear an employee making comments about Muslims or Mexicans. This is not a political, but a factual statement. Do you need to pick a side?

Yes, the law. Brook no bias by either side. You must respond proactively to disparaging comments about Muslims, Mexicans, Evangelical Christians, white men or any “protected group.” To ignore is to condone if you are in a position of power.

You call a friend and share what so many of us feel–you cannot wait for the election to be over. Your friend assures that you have the holidays to look forward to—a time for peace and tranquility.

Your friend clearly either is not an HR professional or just plain crazy if she thinks the holidays are the most wonderful time of year at work. Every holiday decoration designed to increase inclusion is deemed a micro-aggression by someone. Stay tuned for more on holiday headaches in December!).

But until then we must survive. And, we will—with a little help from Gloria Gaynor.

Politics and Work: 7 Guardrails for Leaders

I am pleased to share my latest blog for Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/270670?utm_source=Social&utm_medium=Sharebar&utm_campaign=Sumome_share

For years, we have witnessed a stark partisan divide. Some families have rules — no politics at dinner.

For employers, it is neither practical nor desirable to prohibit all conversations in the workplace. Indeed, to do so is legally dangerous.

Political conversations that relate to terms and conditions of employment may be protected. One can easily see how many political issues have workplace implications, like the gender pay gap, LGBT rights, religious liberty, Obamacare, paid leave, unions, immigration, etc. I think you get the point.

Still, the political divide can create workplace divides that are unhealthy. So here are some guardrails for leaders to minimize the risk that the inevitable will turn into the incendiary:

1. Remember your role as a leader.

If you are a leader, you don’t forfeit your rights to have political views. But be thoughtful about how you express them. You don’t want to suggest those who disagree with you are idiots. Yes, politics is a diversity issue, and we cannot exclude from the talent pool those with divergent political views.

2. Know your audience.

Some people take differing political views very personally. Unfortunately, in my view, many in both political parties demonize the opposition — so they serve as bad role models for the rest of us.

Make sure, before you talk politics, that there is a good working relationship. I enjoy good political discourse and that includes respectful disagreement — but only with those with whom I have a strong underlying relationship.

3. Focus on the positive.

Yes, you read it right. Safer to talk about whom you support than to talk about whom you loathe.Stated otherwise, it is one thing to say support A. It is another to bash B.

4. Think public versus private.

With a close colleague, a one-on-one dialogue (not diatribe) may be fine. I would stay away from the hard-core political in group meetings or leadership communications.

5. Listen.

I don’t mean to sound condescending (that means talk down), but listen to those with different views. You may learn a lot about them in a way that helps you work better with them.

At the risk of delving into political waters, someone who is a strong libertarian may not like “big employer” any more than they like “big brother.” That does not mean you should abdicate your management rights. But it may inform how you exercise your influence with the employee.

6. Careful of discriminatory language.

The candidates differ in terms of their age, ethnicity, gender, race and religion (in alpha order), among other factors. Comments that focus on what are “protected factors” under the employment laws are deeply problematic.

“Too old.” “Too religious.” You got the point. Don’t go there.

7. Respond proactively if you become aware of potential problems.

I confess that I enjoy watching debates. And, I can appreciate knockout punches regardless of whether I like the person throwing one.

In a workplace, there is no room for knockout punches. If you see temperatures are rising, intervene. Consider: “While we may have very different political views, we have at least one thing in common — we want X. [X is your mission, a specific project, etc.] So let’s focus on that.”

If comments reasonably could be seen as biased, you all but must respond. When you are a leader, there is no such thing as a passive bystander when bias is concerned. So, if inherent in the criticisms of a candidate is the person’s age, ethnicity, etc., make clear it’s not okay. It’s not.

Enough. Everyone back to work.