Editor's Notebook

Sexual harassment happens in companies big and small, well-known and obscure

By Dave Yochum. I know I was surprised Monday morning Nov. 20, when Charlie Rose didn’t host “CBS This Morning.” He was a hero of mine; his avuncular demeanor, as well as low-key approach to interview subjects appealed to me.

Four or five cups of coffee, a B-complex supplement and Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Nora O’Donnell and I am good to go for a long time.

Next thing you know, the Washington Post reported on a series of Rose’s profound misdeeds at his television production company and PBS. Soon thereafter, there were reports of similar behavior at CBS. And then Matt Lauer.

Wow. In a relatively small organization, like a news room, a production company or a small business, the person at the top is always right, invincible and not to be argued with. The arrogance that comes with sycophantic behavior by those around him (or her) begets arrogant behavior.

Rose’s arrogant behavior included intimidation, unwanted touching and ​exhibitionism. The women who came forward were brave, having gone up against a powerful and admired individual who could influence their careers.

The same holds true for women who might be harassed in small business settings.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 3 in 10 women “have put up with unwanted advances from male co-workers” and “more than half of American women have experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from men.”

Sexual harassment is prohibited in the United States by Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964​. Only those employers with 15 or more employees are required to comply with Title VII in the workplace.

In a small business, employees who are harassed might not know where to turn. An employer who thinks that’s a good thing may be in for a serious surprise down the road.​

The law defines sexual harassment ​as​ “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct.”

Deanna Arnold started Employers Advantage in August specifically to help small businesses with the HR function on the scale they need—typically companies with fewer than 50 employees.

“A small business is just as exposed to sexual harassment as a large company is and sometimes it is more exposed because of the more intimate working environment,” Arnold says.

The difficulty for an employee is this: Who do you go to if the boss is the HR department and the one doing the harassing…or allowing it.

An Employee Handbook and/or Policy Manual is essential, but only if it is consistently followed.

“Small businesses can’t rest on the fact that they have a handbook. They need to actively utilize it and reinforce the policies of the company,” Arnold said.

She offered these pointers about sexual harassment in the workplace:

• A handbook should let the employee know what steps to take and what is the company’s responsibility.

• Men and women can protect themselves by speaking up when an inappropriate situation arises. Talking about it is imperative.

Steps to take if you feel you are harassed:

1. Act immediately. Timing is of the essence and it is important to take immediate action.

2. Ensure your personal safety and protect yourself. If it is a situation in which you feel that it is crossing the line into sexual assault and a crime, call the local police.

3. Tell them to stop. Let the alleged harasser know that they don’t appreciate their behavior and ask them to stop.

4. Document as much as possible.  Include specifics as far as dates, times, witness names (if any) and details related to the incident(s).

5. Report the incident(s) to a manager and/or the business owner, provided they aren’t the one doing the alleged harassing.

Managers and business owners have a duty to protect the employees and provide a safe work environment.  Smart managers and owners must understand that employees are not their subjects, that they have rights and they will use them if violated.

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