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A Culture of Respect Protects Staff

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges that Goodwill and its affiliate allowed a nightshift supervisor to routinely sexually harass at least five night janitors.

The EEOC is suing the organizations for sexual harassment and disability discrimination.

According to the lawsuit, the supervisor inappropriately touched, leered at, and propositioned the victims, most of whom had disabilities. The employers received multiple reports of the harassment, but allegedly failed to act. The EEOC alleges the employers also retaliated against managers who tried to help the sexual harassment victims. "Goodwill Affiliate Sued By EEOC for Sexual Harassment, Disability Discrimination and Retaliation," (Dec. 15, 2016). 

Commentary and Checklist

Family employers who employ female staff, staff members with disabilities, or other vulnerable staff must remain particularly vigilant against illegal behaviors. This means taking whatever extra precautions to prevent family office management from taking advantage of the power differential to exploit vulnerable staff.

Family employers should create a household workplace that holds family management accountable, while also empowering staff to speak up if wrongdoing occurs.

Training on written policies should make certain staff knows that they are as valuable to the organization as any other worker, and that all are entitled to a fair and safe workplace.

Family employers should be mindful of how words and actions affect the family workplace. The goal must always be to build a positive culture. Allowing even one or two incidents of disrespectful, insulting, or inappropriate language or behavior will create a negative and possibly hostile work environment.

Here are some tips for creating a culture of accountability:

  • Have policies that prohibit harassment, discrimination, and other forms of wrongdoing. Train all staff annually on your policies and provide a written copy.
  • State that the policies apply to all members of the organization, no matter their rank. Have staff and managers sign an acknowledgment that they understand the policies.
  • Provide additional anti-harassment and discrimination training to managers and supervisors.
  • Tell staff that they can report directly to you if a manager or supervisor commits wrongdoing or otherwise makes them feel uncomfortable. Let staff know that you want them to report so that you can address the situation and improve the workplace.
  • During annual performance reviews, ask staff about the management styles of their supervisors, and if they feel respected and comfortable in the workplace. Ask staff if their supervisor has ever said or done anything inappropriate.
  • Provide a good example for managers and staff by always treating everyone, no matter their rank, in a respectful, courteous and professional manner.
  • If a manager or supervisor does commit wrongdoing, immediately investigate. If the perpetrator is found guilty, follow your disciplinary procedure to the letter. Do not make exceptions for higher-ups.
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