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Is Your Workplace Culture in Need of a Remodel?

Is Your Workplace Culture in Need of a Remodel?

How do you ensure your workplace culture is positive?

Many organizations dedicate significant time and resources to compliance with mandatory harassment training laws. Much of the process involved in compliance with these laws is procedural in scope – make sure the training is taken, keep records, and ensure the required elements are provided to the workforce. Often, employers spend a great deal of additional time gathering information on changes in the law, best compliance practices, and other information aimed at reducing the potential liability for failing to maintain compliance.

While compliance is undoubtedly one [large] part of the equation, many employers neglect to take the necessary additional steps to not only train their workforce on the legal elements of sexual harassment but also provide their workforce with practical information on the relationship between a healthy and respectful workplace culture and a reduction in potential for incidents of harassment to occur at all. As a recent case illustrates, failing to address foundational issues of workplace culture can have a disastrous impact.

Recent Case Highlights the Problems with Ignoring Workplace Culture

Many employees can relate to working in an environment where inappropriate comments are made or other traditional forms of direct “one-to-one” situations have arisen that led to some uncomfortability. Perhaps just as common is a so-called “culture of tolerance” for harassment. In such workplaces, the environment lends itself to an overall attitude that is conducive to acceptance of behavior, actions, or displays that are not just offensive to the overly sensitive individual but seemingly make nearly everyone at a minimum take notice, or reasonably become offended.

In Sharp v. SS Activewear LLC,  eight former employees at a warehouse near Reno, Nevada sued their employer over what they termed a “culture of harassment.” The facts presented included the blaring of extremely graphic rap music over commercial-grade speakers, pantomimes of sexual gestures, the yelling of obscenities and sexually graphic remarks, and sharing of pornographic videos at work. Notably, seven of the plaintiffs were women and one was a man.

During litigation, the company argued that the workplace conditions (if true) could not constitute sexual harassment because, if they were offensive, they would be offensive to both men and women and no one individual or gender was the target of any specific misconduct. The lower court agreed, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the employees (reversing the lower court’s decision) and held that “sexually derogatory and violent music played constantly and publicly throughout the workplace can foster a hostile and abusive environment constituting discrimination because of sex.”

In essence, the Ninth Circuit held that just because harassing conduct does not target one individual does not mean the conduct cannot create a hostile work environment impacting any or all genders. Therefore, when a workplace culture is tolerant of harassment it could be subject to liability by any of its employees who are offended by the conduct, whether they were the subject, a target, or neither.

When Planning Harassment Training, Employers Must Focus on the Bigger Picture

Sharp v. SS Activewear highlights the trend in harassment and discrimination litigation where courts are siding with employees who feel they are working in poor workplace cultures. While it is true that the discrimination laws are not intended to regulate civility among individuals, the risks to mental health and productivity from poor workplace cultures are leading these courts to find creative ways to impart liability on those employers who tolerate offensive behavior.

In order to ensure your workplace culture is positive, it is necessary to plan a program of education that is focused on the needs of the employee rather than the “check the box” approach taken by many training providers in the marketplace. By offering your employees a well-rounded program of speak up training, workplace civility and respect, inclusivity and belonging, and other short-form skills training you will find your employees more receptive to the harassment training you are required to provide. Once your employees understand you are offering a robust program not for the benefit of the employer, but because you care about their mental health and well-being, you are far more likely to receive positive feedback on the training, but also reduce your risk for incidents and the associated liability. Everyone wins.

Syntrio has been the industry leader in providing harassment, discrimination, workplace culture, DEI and other forms of HR training that will boost your culture and boost your performance. We welcome the opportunity to speak with a member of your staff today to demonstrate how we can make a difference in your workplace culture and the lives of your employees. Contact us to see why Syntrio’s training is different.

Promote an Affirmative Workplace Culture with Harassment and Discrimination Training

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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