Some of you may remember the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield who catapulted to fame on the comedy circuit and in the movie ‘Caddyshack’ with the catchphrase “I don’t get no respect.” Well, Mr. Dangerfield may have been funny and popular in his time, but his attitude would get no respect these days in the modern workplace.
Today’s workplace is incredibly diverse. Men and women of every race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, marital status, and sexual orientation all work together with one thing in common — to achieve and succeed for their companies, their families, and themselves. Each employee is individual and unique, and all of them deserve respect.
Treating an employee or group of employees adversely or differently from others based on any of the criteria listed above (referred to as “the protected categories”) violates that sense of respect. Examples of such behavior include:
• Unwelcome and offensive comments, jokes, slurs, teasing, e-mails, or other verbal, written, or electronic communications,
• Unwelcome physical contact of any kind, whether or not sexual in nature, and unwelcome comments and conversation of a sexual nature, including requests for sexual favors.
• Stereotyping or ridiculing of an employee based on his or her protected category. For example: “You remember Rodney Dangerfield? How old are you, grandpa?!!”
Conduct such as illustrated here is wrong and inappropriate for the workplace even if the behavior involved was not ill-intentioned. It is the impact on the employee to whom or about whom the behavior is directed that counts, not the intention of the employee perpetrating the behavior. And what one employee may find amusing and harmless may be deeply offensive to another.
It is important to note that unwelcome and offensive behavior based on any one of the protected categories above may constitute illegal harassment under the law if it is severe or pervasive enough to rise to the required legal standard. This could subject a company to a very expensive lawsuit. However, it is also important to understand that offensive and unwelcome behavior even if not legally considered harassment and/or not based on any of the protected categories is still inappropriate for the workplace and not be tolerated.
So how do you ensure a workplace built on respect?
1) Institute a comprehensive written Employee Respect/Anti-Harassment Policy. Ensure this HR policy contains a clearly articulated complaint procedure which provides for prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations of all complaints received and a fair and appropriate resolution of each complaint.
2) Train all employees in the anti-harassment policy including executives, managers, and supervisors. Make sure management at every level understands its special obligations to monitor the workforce for disrespectful behavior and to appropriately receive, handle, and resolve complaints.
3) Retain qualified specialists to conduct the anti-harassment training who fully understand all legal requirements, utilize “real life” examples of how the law is applied, and provide an informative, engaging, and interactive experience for all involved.
Ultimately it’s up to each company, its ownership, management, and employees to make the commitment to respect each other’s differences and to respect each other. That’s the only way to keep the disrespectful Rodney Dangerfields from the door.