With the Les  Moonves news rocking CBS the world is a buzz with #MeToo once again. The CBS Board of Directors let Moonves stay in his job despite multiple sexual misconduct allegations.  What does this mean to a small business owner, independent contractor or to entrepreneurs? A talk by attorney Amy Gare last week shed light on a lot of the basics.  As someone who hails from the small business and start-up world I personally witnessed and experienced more questionable behavior in those offices, and had no HR department to speak with.  So below are three basic definitions to ground you in the essentials of knowing your rights. 

Unlawful Discrimination

Unlawful  discrimination refers to unfair or unequal treatment of an individual (or group) based on certain characteristics, including but not limited to gender, race or sexual orientation.  We're focusing a lot around gender, but the others are equally poignant.

Protected Classes

Thanks to the  civil rights act of 1964 and other federal laws discrimination or harassment based on sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin, religion, or genetic information can now be enforced.  You might find yourself in multiple protected classes.

Unlawful Harassment

Behavior crosses the line when enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or the conduct is severe or persistent enough to create an environment that one would consider intimidating, predatory, hostile, or abusive.  It could begin with subtlty, but don't allow it to become something you learn to live with. 

Who Can be the Harasser?

Anyone.

If you are a freelancer or contractor you may be put in an especially challenging position since raising a flag might end your relationship with that company for the life of your career.  Where corporate HR might protect you, being a lone wolf leaves you more vulnerable and puts you out on a limb, and an expensive one at that if you need to hire a lawyer.

Types of Harassment

Beyond the obvious forms of physical and verbal harassment, the myriad of social media channels open new avenues for inappropriate comments, dialogue or even the digital leering that sometimes occurs before someone makes a move or acts out of line.  Gare recommends not engaging with co-workers on social although this might seem unrealistic or uneven insulting to some especially in a small business where everyone is "family."

Reporting

Whether you are full-time, freelance or something in-between, if you are harassed, it report it to "the adult in the room."  If you witness someone being harassed report that as well.  Nothing will change in work culture without accurate data and transparency.  Of course this could be awkward and uncomfortable, but remind yourself that you are setting a precedent and your actions or inaction will impact the future.

How to Behave

It's easy.  Do not talk about sex at work, and do not physically touch anyone you work with.  Sounds simple right.  No grey areas.  No ambiguity unless the conference, celebratory drinks or holiday party cascade into an unexpected place.   As a business owner do yourself a favor and write an incredible employee handbook with explicit and clear company values and guidelines.  If you experience a transgressor this becomes your first line of defense. 

Published on: Jul 31, 2018