Stranger Things and Sexual Harassment Training-What We Can Learn

 In Small Business Legal Help, Workplace Harassment

Good Training Will Prevent Sexual Harassment

Check out this recent press release:  Sexual Harassment Training Evolving with #MeToo Movement

If you’re like millions across the country, you’ve spent some time binge-watching Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things. While the scenes of teenagers conspiring against the mind-flayer captivated our attention, there was another more subtle scene that should have grabbed everyone’s attention.

The scene involves Nancy Wheeler at work during the 1980s at The Hawkin’s Post. She’s pouring coffee and bringing lunch to a group of men who clearly need training on sexual harassment in the workplace. We all cringed at the horrible treatment she received from her co-workers. We may have wondered how that was even allowed to happen. However, many of us can relate to what Nancy was experiencing because we too have experienced it: a boss who not only allowed the behavior but participated. At some point or another, we’ve all been that young girl believing she could do nothing about it because she would lose her job.

Fast forward 30 years where tremendous strides and awareness have been made toward eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are training their employees on acceptable work behavior and many states require employees to receive sexual harassment training. The #metoo movement has also brought behavior that was once accepted and swept under the rug, to the center of attention across America. With the sweeping movement to eliminate sexual harassment, it is vital to any business owner to mandate employee training to significantly reduce the risk of a sexual harassment claim at the workplace.

Most people probably don’t realize that sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While there were several civil cases in the late 1970s and 1980s involving sexual harassment, a woman in 1991 by the name of Anita Hill, brought this issue into our living rooms and across national headlines. Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas, a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, who she claims harassed her in the workplace. His confirmation hearings centered on her allegations of sexual harassment. Despite the allegations, Thomas was narrowly confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice by just four votes. Anita Hill said, “I am hopeful that others who have suffered sexual harassment will not become discouraged by my experience, but instead will find the strength to speak out about this serious problem.”

Hill’s case opened the door for employers and employees to become more aware of the harassment and change what had been tolerated for too many years. Perhaps most interesting to note is that after Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991, the number of sexual harassment cases increased by 58% and has climbed steadily each year.

Defining Sexual Harassment

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

Additionally, sexual harassment may include, but is not limited to, the following circumstances:

  • The victim, as well as the harasser, could be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex;
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee;
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct;
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

It is crucial for employers and their employees to recognize these facts and to train their employees to avoid any behavior that violates this rule. Sexual harassment can occur in any industry, at any level, and target people of all demographics.

Why Training is Critical to Reducing Risk

The financial cost alone of litigating a case is staggering; it will cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars depending on the claim and type of company involved. And that doesn’t include the cost of loss of productivity at work, increased turnover of employees, and the bad reputation that will follow a company that does nothing to eliminate a hostile work environment.

Prevention is the best tool for eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. Training is the only way for employees to be aware of and understand what the company’s stance is on harassment and discrimination. Employees must be aware of how to report any behavior they see or any behavior that may happen to them. Employers must educate employees about what constitutes “crossing the line”. Employees should be able to distinguish appropriate behavior from actions that can be misconstrued or misinterpreted, and how to avoid those types of incidents altogether. But most importantly, employees need to feel safe about standing up to harassment and trust that their superiors will act quickly.

Start With Your Supervisors

Training needs to start with executive management and especially #Supervisors! Upper management must understand they lead by example and set the tone for what behavior is acceptable at work and what culture management wishes to create. Their words and actions need to exemplify an atmosphere that is free from inappropriate jokes, banter, comments, and touching. Furthermore, every workplace is required to have the following EEOC policies in place that:

  1. Prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace;
  2. Provide a variety of options for complaints;
  3. Train supervisors on how to handle complaints; and
  4. Support an environment where employees feel comfortable in order to minimize complaints that could turn into full-blown lawsuits.

Each state will have different requirements that can change each year. Additional criteria could apply to your company depending on the industry so it’s critical to know what is required by state law.

How to Make Training Interesting and Relevant

Never is an employee excited to show up to work on a Monday morning to watch a presentation on sexual harassment. Most employees will use that time to scroll through Facebook, catch up on the latest gossip, or take a power nap. Finding the right person to help you navigate this crucial part of your business is paramount.

There is a myriad of ways an employer can achieve the goal of eliminating harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Dana Ball has started a new company, called Zoteria, which makes employee training more interactive and effective. Start by taking the first step in prevention and put a training program in place with your company. Zoteria’s training called the Workplace Environment Protection Training, offers online workplace harassment training for large and small companies that will address the specific and relevant needs of your culture and type of business. This type of training will only work if you find the perfect balance for your company and your employees so you can avoid any future litigation.

One Google search will help you realize that it is cheaper to hire a professional to help you avoid being another lawsuit in the news. In the event of a claim, the first thing a lawyer will ask for is a company’s sexual harassment training program and schedule. If you don’t have that in place you might as well give the victim a blank check for damages. The more you can show due diligence on your part to train your employees, the less liability you have.

Thankfully the workplace scenes from Stranger Things are not acceptable or tolerated anymore. Today we like to think that Nancy Wheeler is an executive in a large company. And you can bet that she makes sure they have procedures and policies in place so that no one will experience the treatment she did 30 years ago in Hawkins, Indiana.

Check out this recent press release:  Sexual Harassment Training Evolving with #MeToo Movement

Protect your business and avoid making a mistake with workplace harassment training.  Dana Ball has the skills and ability to see what your company needs and how to implement Zoteria’s online training to prevent any future litigation that could occur. Get in touch with us for more details. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to work with us!

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