The Cost of Careless Words to the Bottom Line in Business and at Work

During a harassment awareness training that I conducted several years ago, an employee raised his hand and made a rather astute observation. “You’re telling us to avoid certain behaviors, like saying sexually inappropriate things to each other. But just saying those things to each other doesn’t break the law.” I nodded my head in agreement. “You’re right. However, the boundaries that I’m setting as a result of this training potentially prevent both you and the company from not only crossing the line into breaking the law, but avoiding the line altogether.  The protection this training and our Sexual Harassment Prevention policy offers by educating you to stay away from the legal bright line will potentially save you and the company literally tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, compliance penalties and lawsuit settlement costs.” The employee wasn’t quite satisfied. “I still don’t see how saying something inappropriate breaks the law,” he continued.  I underscored the learning. “Saying something sexually inappropriate, depending on the severity, may or may not break the law,” I responded. “One thing is certain: if you repeatedly say sexually inappropriate things to your coworkers, it’s not only grounds for immediate termination – it is indeed a violation of the law: constituting creating a hostile environment under the auspices of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

In large measure, the careless and harassing words of former and current New York state Assembly members over the last few year have cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in investigation, legal, settlement and training fees. And that doesn’t include legal costs taken on by the Assembly members alleged to have caused harm, and the staffers who claim they have been harmed. Not to mention the state payroll dollars expended on internal legal, training and public / press relations staff resources, as well as the costly loss of reputational credibility.

Here are some of those careless words, which for most if not all of the NYS Assembly complainants, were allegedly repeated as a pervasive pattern of behavior by their respective supervising Assembly member:

  • I hired you because you’re cute.
  • I like being the only man in your life.
  • I wouldn’t mind falling asleep with you, but not remotely.
  • Let’s have a couple’s massage together.
  • I have a tattoo on my penis.
  • I’m more of a “butt” guy than a “boobs” guy.
  • My relationship with my girlfriend is not working out, and I need someone in the worst way.
  • You look nice, but I’d rather that you didn’t wear a bra.
  • You’re well-endowed, and you should play that up.
  • I like being with a hot chick like you.

The rest of the careless words spoken were too obscene to print in the newspaper.

How will you and your team set bright-line boundaries to ensure that the words you speak to each other this week (and into the future) support mutual respect and bottom-line success, in business and at work?


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