Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

It must stop

Harvey Weinstein. For years, that name was synonymous with charity work, large political contributions, and making popular movies. Then in a blink of an eye, it is a synonym for something different — sexual harassment. In future years, I predict it will be the only thing he is remembered for, even though we are only dealing right now with allegations.

There have been others. Suddenly, the dam has broken. Other producers, directors, even Academy Award–winning actors have been accused of sexual misconduct. The accusations have moved further — into our statehouses, political campaigns, and other areas of business, politics, and society. As I write this, there was a story on sexual harassment in journalism. Right now, I wonder where it will stop.

But one thing is for certain — it must stop.

Most of the allegations we have seen in the past several weeks have been for conduct in the past. We as managers, men and women, must say that this is enough — we will stand for sexual harassment no more. In fact, there must be a ban on all harassment in the workplace. All harassment.

The workplace used to be a popular place where men and women met, dated, and often married. These are happy situations but we have to be on the alert. That is the price we will have to pay.

Women need to feel comfortable in the workplace. The best thing for them and for your company is to let them do their jobs.

I’ve heard women tell me that men don’t look them in the eye — their eyes are averted to their chests. That, too, must stop. We can’t let that happen anymore.

Our employees are our most valuable assets. Without them, we have no company. They are not expendable, and we do control their workday — but nothing else.

So: What specific behaviors do we need to practice to make harassment stop forever?

For women, you are most often the victims. When something offensive is said, say so. Tell the person you are speaking to that you are not comfortable with that conversation. That should be enough. If you are in a bigger company, notify Human Resources so that there is a record. Unfortunately, though, many of these incidents happen in small companies. It would not hurt to make a note in a diary. Be sure to date your notation.

For men, you are most often the perpetrators. Some of the current allegations involve conduct of men on men but the vast majority are men against women.

I would say to treat every woman in your workplace as you would your mother. Be careful about what you say. A woman’s after-work life is no concern of yours. It’s okay to ask a woman you work with out on a date but if the answer is no, no means no. It’s as simple as that.

We have lost the respect we once had when we talk to each other, and that creates a poisonous atmosphere. It is poisonous in the office. It is poisonous in the factory, in the warehouse, in the store, or wherever else you work. Speak to each other with respect.

Another area that has been discussed in the press happens when a manager yells at an employee several times in a day. That is not sexual harassment. It may be a hostile work environment, which is covered by many state and federal laws, but it is not sexual harassment.

Sexual and verbal harassment are all about power — the power of one person over another. The Hollywood types have the power to make a person a star, but all managers have power over their employees.

Exercise your power carefully.

It must stop. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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