Community Content

Stop Sexual Harassment Before it Starts

Published: Friday, July 13, 2018
Updated: Monday, July 16, 2018

There are two paths in the discussion of sexual harassment: one path is illegal harassment, the sexual predator, and the other path is the ignorant or stupid harasser.

If there is a sexual predator within your midst he (and we’ll use “he” as this is the vast, vast…VAST…majority) must be investigated immediately. That investigation is a “right now” sort of deal — not “my schedule is pretty busy, so I’ll look into this within 60 days.” If the investigation discovers evidence that the person is a sexual predator, he should be fired immediately.

Identifying Predators

Sexual predators can be identified because their behavior is pervasive and persistent. “No” means “here’s a challenge” to them.

Don’t get hung up on party affiliation, race, religion or the like, and don’t take personal history or whether you like someone into account. Cosby, Franken, Conyer, Clinton, Lauer, Moore, and Trump, in virtually any business setting made up of reasonable people, would be fired, and some might face criminal charges.

You might think Senator Franken was great, President Trump is awesome, but that doesn’t change facts. If you bring me the most stellar salesperson of all time, who drives a significant percentage of our business and is the son of the owner, and he’s harassing his admin assistant, I’m going to fire him.

I know this is true, because I’ve had very similar experiences. For this discussion, I purposefully use icons on either side of the political aisle. I do this to incite our emotions. “You can’t accuse _______ of that! He’s a civil rights icon!”

Friends, if someone is the owner’s son, I’m going to fire him. That’s our job in ensuring a respectful workplace.

There can be no debate: sexual predators = very quick termination.

Stupidity vs. Ignorance

Harassers are sometimes not predators — just ignorant. Ignorant people are generally more difficult to convince to change, because ignorant people know better but are “ignoring” what is right and choosing an incorrect path. Ignorant people, too, are often intelligent enough to know their behavior is potentially livelihood threatening (think bullies) and will lie through their teeth to avoid the consequences.

I tend to lean toward immediately terminating ignoramuses, too, because they are choosing this path, and usually won’t change their behavior. However, some of the ignorant are not deliberately so, but simply stupid about their harassment. These people can change, but must understand the consequences of their actions.

Many in this group are “good ol’ boys” who never learned that someone seemingly asking for a hug might like an arm draped innocently over the shoulders, but aren’t asking for a full-frontal embrace. Especially not one with accompanying stroking of the back, perhaps “inadvertently” caressing their hips and/or buttocks.

Stupid people are sometimes trainable. Bullies are the exception, of course. I tend to allow these people to go be a bully on someone else’s playground.


Stopping Harassment Early

So, how do you go about determining what to do with a stupid person?

First, ask what the accuser wants. There should be no more than one, or possibly two accusers, and the accusations should be things like “I just don’t want him to hug me,” or “When he looks at me, he creeps me out.” There must be some conversation of what is reasonable here, but if you’ve thoroughly investigated and found some merit, that bar of “reasonable” is set very low.

If their accuser says “I can’t work with him any longer,” your decision becomes both easier and more difficult, because “I can’t work with him any longer” says either the accuser is leaving, or their harasser is leaving— and it’s going to be the harasser. This is more difficult, as you may need to terminate someone who is a pretty nice guy and just made a monumentally stupid mistake. That is, however, what stupid people do.

Second, is the stupid person willing to change? If not, again, your decision is easy: he’s leaving immediately.

Third, how great is your liability? If the harasser is a supervisor, or anyone in a management/leadership position, he should exit…immediately. Otherwise, the company will have a much bigger problem on its hands than one isolated complaint.

So, we’re down to the forklift driver (custodian, call center rep, etc.) who was too persistent asking the new “cute little admin assistant” out and has perhaps taken to sitting on a corner of her desk promenading.  What can we do?

With the assent of the harassed, provide one (and only one) strong, written warning with the following line written in it and explained to the harasser: “If we receive any other complaint that even suggests any disrespectful behavior on your part toward any other person in the workplace, be it substantiated or not, you will be immediately terminated.”

The argument you will get back is “I can’t control others,” and “Someone can get me fired just by filing a complaint,” and “This isn’t fair.”

Fairness is concerning, but if the investigation determined that someone has been engaging in unwanted behavior, the time for the benefit of the doubt has passed. It’s why we’re having this conversation in the first place. I want to ensure the harassed feels fairly treated and she is comfortable in my workplace. That means the harasser is on the thinnest of ice.

What About False Claims?

Many men are leery of false harassment claims, but the data (and my own experience) say they should not be. In over two decades in human resources, I never once, not one time, across industries from manufacturing, to finance, to technology, dealing with thousands of employees, ever received a single, solitary complaint that was even remotely without merit.

Two caveats: First, I’m not pretending I’ve seen everything. There are spiteful people in our midst, and every claim deserves a fair, thorough investigation. Second, spitefulness tends to come out as payback when livelihoods are threatened. If you have an ultra-low performer and you’re terminating her, you may be subject to some not very positive, and perhaps not true, consequences.

Friends, these false accusations just happen so, so rarely. The vast majority of the time, when people pluck up the courage to complain, they do so for good reason.

Easiest Solution: Don’t Hire Harassers

If you want to end harassment, the most disrespectful behavior in our workplaces, proper hiring and the preceding recommendation of immediate consequences will help do the trick.

The preceding is a very simple statement to a very complex problem. What we’ve discovered, and this may be especially true in the compliance arena, is these challenges often are deeply ingrained in an organization’s culture. It usually takes persistence, patience, resources, and time to resolve these difficult issues.

We at friendsTED have the experts who can help if you’re concerned about harassment in your workplace. As my experience and attitude should tell you, we’re going to bring a different slant to your workplace.

Our real solution is not about the checkbox, “We’ve done our annual preventing sexual harassment training.” It’s not about the usual and completely ineffective list of “things you can do” and “things you cannot.” Our solution is about facilitating behavior change through culture evolution, ensuring you receive ROI from the resources you invest with us, and ensuring everyone in the workplace understands that work is for work, and that coworkers will just have to be satisfied with the affections their partners and families provide.

Have an issue with a harasser? Worried about sexual harassment turning into a lawsuit against your company? Want solutions that save you money, increases productivity, and stops harassment before it starts? Shoot us an email — we’d be delighted to help.


REX CASTLE is a co-founder at friendsTED. He has over 3 decades of human resources, training, public speaking and slide design experience. He also has published 3 books:

  1. Selecting the Brass Ring: How to hire really happy, really smart people (and pay them really well)(the complete work),
  2. Why not WOW? Reaching for the spectacular presentation, and a parable of his complete work,
  3. The Brass Ring: How to hire really happy really smart people (and pay them really well).

His passion is working with organizations to increase ROI through creative and replicable models for everything from hiring to leadership to presentation. He is a strategic thinker, thought provoking facilitator and exceptional business partner.
Rex is employed in the technology industry where he is responsible for social media, online help systems, online training systems and assisting the sales professionals in their presentations and slide design. He also has years and years of experience in the manufacturing and finance industries. He is well-traveled and has lived in numerous areas across the United States, but calls Lubbock home and spends most of his spare time with his first grandchild, reading, and enjoys woodworking.


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