Wednesday, January 3, 2018

We have now entered the harassment-overreaction phase

When one of your biggest stars loses his high-profile job in one the year’s biggest sexual harassment scandals, how to you react?

With a brand new, and painfully detailed, anti-harassment policy.

Page Six [h/t Kris Dunn] details NBC’s new “Matt Lauer” harassment policy:
NBC has issued strict new anti-sexual harassment rules to employees — including that staffers must snitch on any misbehaving colleagues. … 
NBC employees have been ordered to report any inappropriate relationships in the workplace — and if they fail to do so, they could be fired for covering up for colleagues. 
Detailed rules also have been issued about conduct in the office, including how to socialize and even how to hug colleagues. … 
If you wish to hug a colleague, you have to do a quick hug, then an immediate release, and step away to avoid body contact.

The snitching part, I’m more than okay with. In fact, it mirrors what the EEOC, and I, have been recommending for months — that moving forward, any anti-harassment program worth its salt must place a serious onus on all employees to report any workplace harassment. As I noted a few months ago, if you’re not taking an active role to stop harassment, you’re complicit in it; and that must stop.

The workplace hugging dance-step chart … is a bit much. This is where common sense has to kick in. If you are comfortable giving a co-worker a hug (really close friends, for example), and you know that co-worker is comfortable receiving the hug, then hug away. If you have any doubts, then don’t hug. It’s really that simple.

To me, this part of NBC’s policy seems like an over-reach. In fact, it seems a bit silly. The one reaction you do not want your employees to have to your anti-harassment policy is laughter. If they reject one part of the policy, you risk them rejecting all of it, which is very dangerous.

I fear that given the revelations of the past few months, we will see more and more employers over-react with policies that try to regulate every aspect of employees’ inter-personal relationships. Until the anti-harassment pendulum swings back to a more reasoned middle ground, we must remain vigilant in rooting out and stopping all workplace harassment, while at the same time not over-reaching with policies and regulations that turn employees off from the very real and valuable message we are trying to communicate.