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This Elephant Won’t Go Away

For the longest period of time there has been an elephant in the room of every business establishment and the halls of Congress that the world outside has paid little attention to. It’s called sexual harassment. And oddly enough, as a result of the Harvey Weinstein scandal the issue is now front and center throughout America.

It takes a major news development to do what isolated stories were unable to do. It has given women the courage to come forward and tell the public about conduct that has undermined their ability to work and has created unlimited stress in their lives. Since the Weinstein story became public it has unleashed a torrent of accusations which have reached some of the highest offices in our country.

As far back as I can remember, certain conduct by employers and superiors was known in many offices but never reported. No one wants to be the bad guy by reporting a coworker’s conduct so in the end bad deeds remained a secret. I still remember a case involving a secretary to a bank officer who complained frequently about his conduct in his private office. Eventually an insurance company paid a settlement and the now-deceased banker continued to work for the bank.

No one can say that these stories of abused employees are exaggerated because they have been reported coast to coast and are all slightly different, but all add up to unacceptable conduct for people in power in both the private and public sectors. The grounds of the U.S. Congress are not exempt from these issues. The case of U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speir (D-California) is just one of many that are bubbling to the surface. She recounts actions by a senior staffer who crossed over the line and with ugly conduct.

The Congress member didn’t sit back and do nothing. She reported the incident and aggressively sought a $500,000 appropriation for sexual harassment training for staffers and members. You can guess what happened next. When the federal budget was adopted there were no moneys set aside for the program. Her latest calls for Congressional action will no doubt be ignored as well.

Many businesses have come to recognize that workplace conduct can be a major headache as having to settle claims can be embarrassing and costly. They have distributed workplace policy rules to all their employees, which is required by law and have sent a strong message about what they expect from them. There is no doubt that other employers, to their peril, will brush off the issue assuming it will never rear its head.

The responsibility to deal with workplace harassment isn’t just on some public or private employer. There is a family responsibility to deal with these issues as well. If you have daughters, they should be encouraged to report workplace conduct that is improper. If you have sons, it is good to remind them that society is no longer willing to ignore these issues. Either way that elephant is going to be in the room a long time and bad conduct will no longer be tolerated.

 

To read the entire article in the Long Island Weekly, click here.