August 19, 2021

Sexual Harassment – It’s Still A Thing

A workplace “rife with fear and intimidation” is how independent investigators reporting on allegations of sexual harassment by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described the work environment of the Governor’s Executive Chambers.  A toxic workplace culture that not only enabled harassing conduct, but also “created a hostile work environment overall.[i]”  Staggering.

The workplace woes plaguing the Governor’s Executive Chambers and its toxic environment are a bellwether for workplaces everywhere. The type of conduct described in the investigator’s report stands as a stark reminder that unprofessional behavior, abusive conduct, and incivility – left unchecked – will negatively impact workplace culture and inevitably escalate into legally actionable conduct. Below are some important reminders when it comes to creating and maintaining a workplace free from abusive or harassing conduct.

Ethics: Ethics in the workplace is more than simply being honest with your coworkers. The concept of ethics in the workplace is broad; encompassing the notion of fair-play, equality and providing the support necessary to accomplish the task(s) at hand.

Civility: Disagreeing with co-workers on how to accomplish a specific task or harboring a strong dislike for a co-worker is never an excuse for incivility or abusive behavior. Finding yourself unable to engage in a job-related discussion professionally and calmly is a good indicator that distance, or assistance is needed.

Strength: Finding yourself on the receiving end of abusive behavior or unprofessional conduct can be shocking and momentarily debilitating. Finding that inner strength – in the moment or afterwards – to calmly respond (e.g., “That behavior is inappropriate.”), disengage (e.g., “Let’s talk about this when things have cooled down.”), or to report the behavior if it continues, is important.

Action: Beyond the obligations of an employee there are three additional responsibilities every workplace leader should consider:

  • The responsibility not to abuse your position when interacting with subordinates.
  • The responsibility to serve as an ethical / professional role model.
  • The responsibility to promote an ethical / professional work environment.

State and federal laws mandate that employers create a workplace free from harassing conduct. Despite these mandates such conduct continues to negatively impact workplaces of all sizes. Training efforts, and strict “zero tolerance” policies do make a difference. But it is the day-to-day interactions with our co-workers, and our unwillingness to accept anything less than a civil and professional work environment, that will effectively stop a downward trajectory of an otherwise positive workplace culture.

Abusive and harassing conduct can only exist in environments and cultures that allow it. Ending workplace harassment and abusive conduct begins with ethics and civility carried forward by inner strength and action.

Interested in learning more about preventing abusive or harassing conduct in the workplace? Visit Western Growers University.

[i] The Report of Investigation provides important insight into the types of harassing conduct found to be offensive by those working in and around the Gov. Executive Chambers.