Creating and maintaining a respectful workplace requires the efforts not only of management but also employees. In this lesson, we'll take a look at how employees can help establish and maintain a respectful work environment. A short quiz follows.
Respect Begins with Knowledge
Maintaining a respectful workplace is important not only to comply with federal and state employment law but also to create a productive workplace for employers and an environment that helps establish job satisfaction for employees. The first step in ensuring a respectful workplace is to understand what constitutes sexual harassment so that you do not engage in it, can identify it and can report incidents of harassment to your employer.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment includes 'unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.' Quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone with power or influence over your job demands a sexual favor in exchange for some job benefit or to prevent some adverse employment action, such as being fired.
Sexual harassment can also occur when conduct creates a hostile work environment. According to the EEOC, a hostile work environment is one where 'the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.' Examples include constant reciting of lewd jokes, displaying of lewd photographs and gossiping about a co-worker that puts the worker in an unfavorable light. It's important to realize that offensive or derogatory comments need not directly relate to sex to be considered sexual harassment. Comments about a person's gender can count, too.
Follow the Law
At the most basic level, you must ensure your actions are not in violation of federal and state sexual harassment law. In other words, don't engage in conduct that falls within the definition of sexual harassment that we've just discussed. If you have any doubt, don't act until you consult with your supervisor or human resource manager. For example, before you share a joke or hang up art in your office that may approach the line of being offensive, let your supervisor or human resource manager review it first. It's important to note, however, that what is absolutely required by the law should serve as the absolute floor for appropriate conduct at work. In simpler terms, treating people merely lawfully can still mean you are treating people pretty darn poorly.
Follow Organization Policy
It's important to follow your organization's sexual harassment and related policies. If you don't know what they are, you should ask your supervisor or human resource department. Aside from prohibiting sexual harassment, some organizations may also have anti-nepotism and anti-fraternization policies. Anti-nepotism policies will generally prevent married co-workers from having any say in employment decisions concerning their spouse. Anti-fraternization policies, on the other hand, often prohibit supervisors from dating their employees or may even prohibit all co-worker dating.
Follow Common Sense
Perhaps the most important lesson to take away is to follow simple common sense when observing or contemplating questionable conduct. Let's take a look at personal relationships and then move on to a more general rule of thumb.
Sometimes we work with spouses or a significant other. It's important to keep in mind that how you behave towards your spouse or significant other in your private life may not be acceptable at work. It's better to treat your special someone in the same professional manner as you would treat a regular co-worker while at work.
We spend much of our lives at work, and most work is undertaken in a social environment. This means you may constantly interact with supervisors, co-workers, vendors and customers throughout your workday. Before you engage in conduct that you believe may be questionable, consider asking yourself the following simple questions:
- Is the conduct something I would not mind my mother, grandmother, significant other or child witnessing?
- Is the conduct something I would not mind someone subjecting my mother, grandmother, significant other or child to?
If you can't answer 'no' to either of these questions, your conduct is probably not appropriate for the workplace.
Let's review what we've learned. A respectful work environment is necessary for members of an organization to be productive and for them to have good job satisfaction. Sexual harassment creates a disrespectful workplace and should therefore be eliminated from it.
Employees can help maintain a respectful workplace void of sexual harassment by following some simple principles:
- Understand what conduct constitutes unlawful sexual harassment.
- Do not engage in such unlawful conduct.
- Follow your organization's workplace sexual harassment policy.
- Follow your common sense.
After you've completed this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify the importance of having a respectful work environment
- Recall the EEOC's definitions of sexual harassment and hostile work environment
- Describe ways to avoid engaging in sexually harassing behavior at work
- Define anti-nepotism and anti-fraternization policies