April, 1997 - Hostile Environment
The US Supreme Court set down a clearer set of guidelines about sexual harassment, bringing federal laws closer to California laws.
The New Rules (as reported in the Orange County Register, June 27, 1998):
Hostile Work Environment refers to harassment by supervisors, managers, coworkers, agents of the company/organization and outside vendors. Hostile Work Environment consists of a condition where employee cannot do their job without feeling harassed or threatened. (1)
According to most legal definitions, Hostile Work Environment refers to harassment or discrimination that is a violation of a person's civil rights - based on gender, sexual orientation, race, color, nationality, ancestry, ethnic origin, religion, physical handicap/disability, medical condition, physical appearance, marital status, veteran status, education.
Webster's definition of Hostile (2):
Webster's definition of Hostility:
Recent news reports quote research that people who witness harassment have stress symptoms almost as severe as those who are the target of harassment.
Consensual Behavior consists of voluntary, mutually welcome relationships between coworkers at any level. Consensual behavior is not regulated by laws nor do laws try to interfere in the personal private lives of coworkers. However, be aware, other employees may feel discriminated against, harassed or work in a hostile environment if denied equal opportunity due to a consensual relationship of coworkers. (1)
Our Definition of Hostile Workplace Environments
A Hostile Workplace is one where people can not do their best work or be their most productive due to conditions in their workplace. That is, the workplace is hostile to their natural humanity. Notice also the results of a hostile workplace are hostility toward the company's productivity, which directly impact profits in a negative way. People who are unhappy, unhealthy or angry do not work hard.
Hostile workplace is the result of suppression of people's natural ability to express themselves. It is the opposite of a workplace that promotes creativity and vitality. Hostile workplaces are deadly to productivity. They are unhealthy - and potentially deadly - to the people who work in them.
Hostility consists of:
According to Dr. Suzette Elgin, hostility can make you sick or kill you! Dr. Elgin also says (3):
(1) Zero Tolerance: Sexual Harassment Prevention, a training program, by Barbara Taylor, Michael Anthony, Victor Thies � 1993
(2) Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary � 1983
(3) Genderspeak: Men, Woman and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D. � 1993
Profanity is used as either a lazy person's tool for profound expression or as a shock device. If your workplace is riddled with swearing, start a collection box where each person who swears or is otherwise profane voluntarily puts in a dollar towards some charitable cause. When the contribution dwindles because there is less swearing, use the contribution box to work on some other behavior, like being grumpy. Aristotle said that to BE virtuous one need only practice virtue. PRACTICE!
Train, Train, Train
People need to learn that there are many things they should NEVER do or say at work - things that would be acceptable in their private life. At a cocktail party or wedding, you can walk away from an obnoxious guest. You can not do that at work when the obnoxious person is your boss, coworker or the whole company.
Training teaches people to allow everyone on the team to enjoy the right to a neutral environment. In turn the company is more profitable and everyone is the better for it.
No Racy or Pornographic Literature
This should go without saying. However, all too often, employees bring or keep such materials at work or call it up on the Internet. The workplace is no place for this material. PERIOD!
Clean up the Humor
Dirty jokes are the cheapest laugh. Any comedian will tell you that. If you really want to be funny, do it without sex or profanity. Compare Jerry Seinfeld to Andrew Dice Clay and ask yourself which type of workplace (Seinfeld or Clay) would your people be more comfortable in.
Just because it is not disgusting or sexist doesn't mean that it can't be funny.
Limit or Eliminate Touching
This is a very difficult but important issue. In a recent seminar which I gave on sexual harassment, this issue became very focused on whether people could 'hug' at work. The discussion turned to what people wanted to communicate by hugging � support, congratulations, empathy, attraction, warmth etc.
In work, it is this writer's opinion that the shorthand of the 'hug' or 'touch' should be avoided.
If you have something to say, say it with words. The message, most probably, will be clearer.
Many people do not want to be touched or hugged. It is not their job to tell you that. In many ways, this issue is about power.
Bond Other Than Through Sexual Innuendo, etc.
People seek to become a part of groups within groups. This helps us feel special. We create little clubs to get close to one another beyond a simple one-to-one relationship. One way this is done is by being part of a group that teases each other about sex and sexual issues. This is also used as an icebreaker. A really bad icebreaker.
Think back twenty years to this oldie but not so goody, 'Hey, you're cool, I really want to get high with you.' Same difference, and just as bad.
Bonding can occur on the job or through group reading, group mountain climbing, leadership seminars, or intramural bowling or football or golf leagues instead of through sexual innuendo and teasing.
Doing this right builds team character and dignity. Doing this wrong builds lawsuits.
Do Not Ignore the Issue of Workplace Romance
Romance sometimes happens at work. It can create a hostile environment for coworkers not involved in the relationship, and also between the romantically-involved employees in the event that the romance ends (especially if it ends poorly).
Romances between managers and their direct reports can - in some jurisdictions - create legal exposure for the employer. The issue of workplace romances should be addressed and discussed, not ignored.
Create policies and stick by them (i.e., a manager is not allowed to be romantically involved with anyone that he or she supervises).
Lead by Example
"The fish rots from the head" (1988 Dukakis/Bush presidential race).
Whatever the goal, if top management acts or believes contrary to the desired action or attitude � the goal is destined for failure.
You can not create a productive and fun work environment where the president is onsite and forces busy work upon his staff and is cruel to boot.
Likewise, you can not create a workplace striving to be free of sexual harassment where the top managers are insensitive (pronounced offensive) OAFs.
If you are an OAF, de-OAF yourself - before a court or administrative agency decides to help you in the process.
Have a Strongly Enforced Sexual Harassment Policy
First, adopt the policy and make it part of the culture of the company.
Second, live by it - not because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do.
With this attitude - as opposed to one of begrudging compliance - your workplace, your company's productivity and the value of your company will be enhanced.
Copyright � 1997 Richard K. Berger (contact [at] berkent.com). RickyBerger is the founder of Berger Law Office, which concentrates its practice in representing emerging businesses and employees with their job-related and pre and post-employment needs. Prior to establishing Berger Law Office, Ricky was associated with Gaston & Snow and was a founding partner of Robinson & Berger. Ricky writes extensively on employment law and business management issues, and is widely published in hard copy and on the World Wide Web including with his Primer on the ADA published by Court TV. Ricky conducts training and lectures on employment law and business management issues as part of his mission to help create productive, efficient, profitable, healthful, safe, and fun work environments. Disclaimer: The above article should not be considered or relied upon as legal or other advice in any manner whatsoever.
(Article used with permission of the author. Thanks, Ricky!)
Taking the Punch out of Workplace Violence
The Division of Occupational Health and Safety in California's Department of Industrial Relations points to surveys which estimate that nationally between 670,000 and 2 million employees have been attacked in the workplace. Moreover, 6.6 million have been threatened and 16 million have been harassed. Those are impressive numbers, even if they are estimates.
Here are some more. The Census for Fatal Occupational Injury Statistics showed that in 1993 there were 1004 homicides in the workplace. The greatest number of violent attacks came from customers (44%), strangers accounted for 24% of attacks, co-workers caused 20%, bosses 7%, and finally former employees 3%. It seems our generally held perception of former employees as the greatest risk may not be accurate. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia has classified workplace violence as a national disease epidemic.
Some states, including California, are holding employers responsible for preventing violence in their workplaces.
Under California law, all employers must have a written safety plan called an Injury and Illness Prevention Program. In addition to addressing fire safety, hazardous materials handling procedures, and earthquake preparedness, these written plans must also address the subject of workplace violence prevention. Employer penalties can be severe. Willful violations now bring a citation worth a minimum of $25,000. Willful violations which result in death or serious physical harm to an employee can result in fines as great as $70,000. Then, too, there is the state law which holds individual managers criminally liable if they know of a workplace hazard with the potential of serious injury, do nothing to correct it, and someone is actually seriously hurt or killed. That will clear your calendar for a few years while you sit behind bars.
Let's face it. It's not just the U.S. Postal Service which is having problems involving workplace violence. They just seem to garner the largest headlines. And, remember, it is customers not employees who cause the greatest number of workplace problems.
So, what can employers do? Glad you asked. Here are some practical suggestions to help you keep your workplace as safe as you want it to be for yourself, your loved ones and your employees.
Employer Actions for Prevention
Step 1: Have a Written Policy Against Workplace Violence
Step 2: Identify Security Hazards in Your Workplace
Step 3: Ensure Employee Compliance With Safety and Security Policies
Step 4: Investigate All Reported Threats of Violence or Harassment
Step 5: Develop Plans for Dealing With Violence If It Occurs
No employer can afford to take a cavalier attitude toward the subject of workplace violence. The stakes are too high.
Every employer should have a plan in place for dealing with violent incidents should they occur. That is no different from having a plan for dealing with fire should it occur.
Consider in your plan such questions as:
It appears that we all generally shy away from thinking about the tragedies which might come into our lives.
No one likes to suffer either emotionally or physically.
Yet, proper crisis management planning can save both your business as well as further injury to employees and third parties.
If you don't know how to go about developing such a plan, ask for help from your human resources or safety consultant.
Whatever you do, think ahead and involve others in that process.
Violence in the workplace is a subject we would rather avoid considering. It is very easy to delay or dismiss such consideration with the rationalization that "It couldn't happen here."
Today, employers are being held responsible and accountable for providing safe workplaces for their workers. Those who do not are discovering unpleasant penalties including large fines and even prison sentences.
The biggest losers are those who find themselves innocent victims of violence that could have been prevented if only someone had taken the time to think through the possibilities.
As the leader of your organization, what will YOU do about workplace violence?
� 1997 William H. Truesdell. William H. Truesdell is president of The Management Advantage, Inc., a human resources consulting firm in Walnut Creek, California, which specializes in policy development and issues of Equal Employment Opportunity and affirmative action. He can be reached on 510-671-0404 or through e-mail tmainc [at] management-advantage.com.
The company'sweb site has additional information about current human resource management subjects in its free newsletters.
(Article used with permission of the author. Thanks, William!)
(a Talking Cowboy Blues Song - to the music of any good western song)
Well, I woke up this morning to a meeting in my head.
There'd be death threats on my confidence and extortions of my
So, I called my New Age girlfriend, who'd self-helped herself for years,
She said that force would drive it deeper . . . I needed to love my fear away.
So, I called my local talk show radio therapist of the air.
She said it was not good to be ashamed, I should get therapy or meditate,
She said, "Thank you for share," and put me on hold.
So, I said to myself, "I know I'm in there," and walked over to the mirror
I know my inner child's enraged, but all my outer man can say
Right about then, my committee kicked in,
The supposed conscious evolution center of the known universe.
So, I ran home, turned off the phone and changed the machine.
So, I called this twelve-step friend of mine who I thought might maybe know
He took me to his support group and I shared about my rage.
I said, "You mean I'm addicted
He says, "Yup!"
I said, "What happened to 'Keep it Simple'?"
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
By Chuck Pyle, with modifications by Noel McInnes
Page updated: May 11, 2023
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