As you are probably aware, “locker room talk” has become a recent issue in the news. Hopefully, we can all agree that the office is not the place for such crude remarks. But how can managers effectively curb such offensive language – especially if the office environment is full of banter among co-workers?
Taking a proactive stance to create and maintain a respectful work environment is the most effective way to prevent discrimination, workplace harassment and sexual harassment. This can be accomplished by:
- Educating the workforce about discrimination, workplace harassment and retaliation;
- For example, although there is not a bright line rule, employees should be coached on when crude remarks border on verbal harassment.
- Having clear guidelines for reporting discrimination, workplace harassment and retaliation;
- Although employees may be hesitant to come forward with reports of crude behavior for fear of being labeled a “goody two shoes” or worse, managers and supervisors should encourage reports and advise employees not to tolerate an inappropriate work culture. Management should remind employees that taking a stand against such behavior can have a positive effect on their work environment and relationship with colleagues.
- Making it clear that discrimination, workplace harassment and retaliation are prohibited and will not be tolerated.
- Managers and supervisors should act promptly and properly to any complaints received by employees in accordance with company policy. Managers should remind employees that retaliation for making such complaints will not be tolerated. In addition, companies should also follow-up with complainants to ensure that retaliation does not occur.
In addition to these preventative steps, it goes without saying that office culture usually has a “trickle-down” effect. Therefore, it is the responsibility of management at all levels to set the right tone for ending workplace harassment. This includes avoiding conduct that may lead to liability for your company and keeping in mind supervisors and managers serve as a role model for employees. This means that management should not ignore “locker room talk,” even if no one complains. It also means that management should abide by appropriate workplace behavior at off-site functions, including company happy hours, etc.
We urge our readers to consult legal counsel if you have any questions about harassment in the workplace or if you would like more information regarding customized anti-harassment training offered by the Obermayer Labor and Employment team.
Larae N. Cunningham is an attorney in Obermayer’s Labor Relations and Employment Law Department. Her practice focuses on counseling management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law including discipline, termination, reductions-in-force, document retention, family and medical leave, reasonable accommodation under the ADA, NLRB compliance and wage and hour issues. She can be reached at 215-665-3092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.