Allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct keep mounting against celebrities and politicians, but sexual harassment is far too common. The high-profile cases, however, are bringing more exposure to the problem.
Matt Lauer was fired by NBC and Garrison Keillor was dropped by Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday, the latest celebrities to be fired for their actions. Cindy Kolb, an attorney who often works with corporate clients on issues related to sexual harassment, said her days have been busier since the scandals were first reported.
“We usually have some regular trainings going on,” Kolb mentioned, “but we have gotten a few more phone calls about, ‘hey, we need to make sure we’re doing everything we’re supposed to, and enforcing our policies and communicating our policies to our employees.”
Kolb, who works for Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, said the national conversation about sexual misconduct is having a positive effect on local businesses because it has forced supervisors to rethink the amount of effort they put into sexual harassment training.
“A lot of companies are good about having a policy, and they give it to you in your orientation and then you never hear about it again,” she said.
Kolb believes that leads to two problems in many offices. The first is that employees may fail to understand which behaviors are okay and which are not. She said most people understand that demanding sexual favors in exchange for a job, known as “quid pro quo” harassment — which Harvey Weinstein is accused of — is wrong. But simply making work uncomfortable for someone because they are a woman or a man is also a form of sexual harassment.
“I think that part of it companies don’t necessarily address,” Kolb noted, “because people aren’t as familiar with it from the news, and movies, and TV, that type of thing.”
The other problem Kolb finds relates to the idea that sexual harassment often comes from people in positions of power. Many times, Kolb noted, the victims worry about being believed or about facing retaliation. So, while having a sexual harassment prevention policy is important, Kolb said companies often fail to use it to protect their workers.
“Where they tend to fall off a little bit is that, making sure their employees know about the policy and know what to do if they have a complaint,” she stated. “So, in other words, who do they go to complain to if they have a concern.”
New revelations and accusations have come frequently against high-profile figures in recent weeks, in large part because each new story gives victims more confidence that their claims will be respected and investigated. Each new scandal means Kolb has new examples to share during her training courses.
“It brings it a little home to people,” she explained, “that they (say), ‘oh, yeah, I’ve heard about this.’ And then you can say, ‘well, yeah, and you have a policy against it at your job place, also, and this is why.’”
In light of allegations of sexual misconduct made against Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-AL), Congress is taking a step to improve its sexual harassment training. A bill was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) that would force every member of Congress and their entire staff to take a sexual harassment training course every time Congress returns to session. Republican Arkansas representatives French Hill, Bruce Westerman, and Steve Womack were among the 187 co-sponsors of the legislation.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Hill said in a statement. “Before this legislation was introduced, my office staff and I had completed the House’s sexual harassment training. I expect more entities — businesses, institutions and offices — to follow suit and put in strong accountability measures to make workplaces free from inappropriate behavior.
Today, the House declared that we are taking sexual harassment seriously and that there is no place for misconduct in Congress. I look forward to additional recommendations on what other steps can be taken by House Administration.”