Compliance or Common Sense

Since October 2017, stories about sexual harassment have been in the media. Harassment, sexual and other types, is a serious workplace and societal problem and needs to stay at the forefront. Unfortunately, the nuances of the issue are often confused. The press doesn't always distinguish between sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

Behavior that is disrespectful often occurs on a continuum, and if it's not addressed early it can erode.  For example, subtleties, if not confronted and addressed, can deteriorate into sexual harassment, which can deteriorate into sexual assault. The lines between different types of behavior can at times be thin and blurred, but the behaviors are distinct from each other. 

What can and should we be doing about harassment, sexual and other types, in our organizations?  Funny you should ask.  In The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook, Barbara and I devote a chapter entitled Are You Playing Nice in the Sandbox?  to disrespectful and disruptive behavior, including descriptions of certain types of behaviors. Here are some of the key points – points I have long stressed in training – we make in the book:

  • Live your values and don't tolerate behavior that is contrary to those values – behavior that is disrespectful and disruptive to the workplace. 
  • If unacceptable behavior occurs, address it and empower every employee to address it –and live up to that commitment. 
  • If behavior is judged against a standard of respect, organizations don't need to determine if it does or doesn't meet the legal definition (or standard) of harassment.  Simply stated, raise the bar on your acceptable standards of behavior – and live up to that commitment. 

This is what organizations should be stressing in their harassment prevention training. They should also be having more conversations about workplace behavior outside of compliance training sessions. Managers need to be involved and engaged in these conversations. 

Employees should feel comfortable confronting behavior with the perpetrator when it happens and reporting the behavior in accordance with the organization’s policies. How do you encourage employees to address and stand up to unacceptable behavior? After all, it can be intimidating.  We’ve got suggestions for that in The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book, a companion to our earlier book on conflict. A chapter in this book also entitled Are You Playing Nice in the Sandbox? is filled with phrases that can be used or tailored to respectfully confront disruptive behavior. 

Organizations have an obligation to be compliant with the laws. They also have an obligation to create and maintain workplaces that are comfortable, professional, and respectful for their employees, clients, customers, guests, and visitors. Common sense goes a long way toward meeting both of these obligations!  

There is much to say on this subject, and we will in future blogs, so please be sure to check our posts on Making People Matter, which we publish every week at

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