MPTA hosted its latest Educational Series event on Nov. 1 in Columbia, MO on the harassment an discrimination industry under the current #MeToo climate. Attorney Ashley Norgard with KutakRock based in Springfield, MO discussed how transit agencies could combat harassment issues with good policies, an action plan, and education. “Sexual harassment is not about sex. It’s about power.” Sheryl Sandberg.
Norgard discussed elements that make up a good harassment policy such as defining protected classes, making sure reporting mechanisms are clear and well known, keeping confidentiality a priority whenever possible, and ensuring retaliation is prohibited. She also reviewed why these policies matter, and the consequences of having an insufficient policy in place can have, including violations of state, federal, and local laws, absenteeism/turnover, and bad publicity just to name a few.
The discussion continued with the exploration of roles in the organization and how some offenders may use their status in the company to inappropriately exert power over others.
There are two types of harassment: quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Both types of behavior include unwelcome conduct and can have a severe and negative effect on the workforce. Examples cited included supervisor and operator; driver and passenger; employee and employee; and passenger and passenger. In every scenario, Norgard stressed the agency is responsible to ensure the safety of employees and passengers.
When reporting harassment it is best to have multiple channels for reporting inappropriate behavior. Individuals selected to investigate the complaint should have no conflicts of interest. It is important to encourage prompt reporting and multiple reporting channels, but it is also important to not restrict the time frames of investigations.
Norgard encourages organizations to review their own policies and commit to equal employment opportunities and respect for others. It is important to build a community of trust within an organization for those that do come forward. Supporting co-workers during an investigation, and encouraging cooperation during that time is essential. Norgard also emphasized the importance to stay vigilant for acts of retaliation after a report has been made.
For additional info on possible trainings:
Ashley Norgard, Attorney
Kutak Rock LLP