Editor’s Note: Tough to ignore

December 18, 2017 -  By

Marisa Palmieri

It’s difficult to ignore the news about prominent people losing their jobs over allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Today it happens to be NBC’s Matt Lauer, but in the past few months, many other members of Hollywood, the media, the business world and politics have been accused of sexual harassment and much worse.

You might think, “We’ve been in business for 20 years and we’ve never had a complaint, so it won’t happen here.” Keep in mind, three-quarters of people who experience workplace harassment never make an internal complaint because they fear disbelief, inaction, blame or retaliation, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In any case, human resources experts say such “not here” attitudes can be disastrous for potential victims and a company’s legal and financial situation.

If you don’t think sexual harassment has happened or could happen at your company, you’re likely wrong. If you don’t think you need to proactively address it, I urge you to reconsider. Considering that nearly every landscape professional I encounter cites hiring and retention to be his or her top challenge, a negative or outright predatory workplace should be avoided at all costs.

Let’s define sexual harassment. The EEOC, which enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, including sexual harassment, defines it as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment. It also can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client. An instance of simple teasing doesn’t count. Harassment becomes illegal when it’s so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in negative consequence for the victim, such as being fired or demoted.

Action steps

So what’s a landscape business to do? The EEOC published a report last year based on the findings of its “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.” It presented the following recommendations for employers to do their part to prevent harassment in the first place.

  • Adopt and maintain an anti-harassment policy that includes details about how to report harassment;
  • Offer compliance training to all employees and train managers and first-line supervisors about how to respond to harassment they observe or that’s reported to them; and
  • Foster a company culture that doesn’t tolerate harassment.

No surprise, the EEOC report says the last point has the greatest impact.

“The importance of leadership cannot be overstated,” according to the report. “Effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company.”

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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