5 Tips to Follow in Light of the #MeToo Movement
Women and men everywhere are speaking up about inequality, injustice, and sexual harassment—all topics that have remained relatively unspoken until recently. Many Americans spend the majority of their day at the workplace, and in wake of the #MeToo movement shifting social attitudes and holding sexual harassers accountable, we see more workplace horror stories coming to light. But even as these truths are revealed, many women still say they’ve seen zero change in their own workplaces.
Statistics show 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lives. Although the same survey states the workplace is the less common place to experience sexual harassment—with 38 percent of women and 13 percent of men reporting such incidents—this issue is still very real and prevalent.
While an office may serve as a place to form new friendships, when can friendly become “too friendly”? Sexual harassment is tolerated less than ever as women across the U.S. speak up and share their #MeToo moments, which has affected individuals, companies, and whole industries. For the protection of both female and male employees, companies need to be vigilant about maintaining a safe working environment. Workers themselves can help mitigate negative scenarios by keeping in mind a few simple suggestions for the workplace:
TIP #1: Keep Monkey Business Out of Business
Remember that you are in a professional workplace, and professional behavior is expected. All company e-mails, as well as texts, sent on a device owned by or paid for by the company belong to your employer, who has the right to monitor your correspondence with or without your permission. Whether you’re seated at your desk typing an e-mail, engaging on social media, or using a company smartphone after hours, do not send or post anything you wouldn’t want your CEO to see. Similarly, every person has a different sense of personal space and comfort level with physical touch. Be aware of others’ boundaries to avoid crossing professional lines.
TIP #2: Be Thoughtful When You’re “Being Thoughtful”
In a workplace with people from all cultures and lifestyles, actions and sentiments can be interpreted in different ways. A colleague may offer to pick up the lunch tab or bring coffee for a co-worker without any romantic connotation, but another may perceive it as pressure to date or unwanted attention.
TIP #3: Speak Up
If you are uneasy about an interaction with a co-worker, do not be afraid to ask him or her to change his or her behavior. It can be a difficult topic to approach, which is why your employer provides an HR team to help. If someone is creating an unwelcoming workplace for you, please approach your HR professional or manager. Likewise, if you witness a co-worker being harassed, report it anonymously to your HR team. It is your legal right to feel safe in your office, and it’s your company’s role to ensure your safety in the workplace.
TIP #4: Be Informed
Every workplace is different and in this day and age, co-worker dating is less taboo. If you’re considering entering an in-office relationship, be informed of your company’s policies on co-worker dating. Without a written policy, inter-office romances may cause an employer to be liable if a situation turns “unfriendly.” Often, HR will require employees who are dating to sign an informed consent agreement, which states they are in a consensual relationship. These agreements mitigate the legal risk to a company in the event a relationship turns sour.
Most employers have strict policies against supervisors and subordinates dating. We have seen handfuls of abuses of power exposed through the media in the recent months, and it’s more important than ever that HR teams and employees themselves take action to minimize the risk of harassment or misuse of power.
TIP #5: Consider the Consequences
Before entering an in-office relationship, check your company’s policy on co-worker dating to ensure your actions are not grounds for termination or reproach. If you have verified that you are acting within the limits of what’s acceptable, then consider the other consequences of a potential relationship. On one hand, the latest aforementioned survey reported that 30 percent of office romances lead to marriage. On the other hand, 5 percent of workers who’ve had an office romance reported they have left a job because an office relationship did not pan out and caused friction at work. It’s important to weigh the personal and professional risks of becoming involved with a colleague.
Sara Jensen is vice president of business development for Innovative Employee Solutions (IES), a San Diego-based provider of Employer of Record services, outsourced payrolling services, and contingent workforce solutions. For more than 40 years, IES has served thousands of employers and recruiters nationwide, offering superior outsourced payroll and HR administration services. Since 1974, IES has grown to be one of San Diego’s largest women-owned businesses and is consistently ranked one of the best places to work in the city.