Sexual harassment puts job in jeopardy
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001
That sexual harassment still exists in Largo city government, even after employees were given special training to recognize and avoid it, indicates two things:
1. The culture in city offices had allowed such behavior for far too long.
2. It takes time and a multifaceted approach to change ingrained behaviors.
Here's what it does not indicate: that the training was a waste of time and money.
Largo officials did the right thing last July when they announced that all city employees and volunteers -- more than 1,000 persons -- would be required to attend sexual harassment workshops.
The announcement followed a period of embarrassing revelations, mostly from the Largo Police Department. Officers were accused of improper relationships with members of the police Explorers post. Then other women associated with the department revealed that they had been sexually harassed by officers.
The announcement about the mandatory harassment workshop, timed with the demotion of a police officer who had been accused of harassment, surely must have communicated to employees that the city was serious about changing the culture and stopping the scandals.
Still, even after completion of the training, some city employees continue to engage in harassing behavior, according to City Manager Steve Stanton. And some have grumbled about being forced to attend the 31/2-hour workshop at all. They don't understand why such a big fuss is being made.
Those are the hard cases -- the ones who just don't get why it is inappropriate for employees to be sexually targeted or made to feel uncomfortable while trying to do their job. One workshop isn't enough for them, and that is why we suggested last year that the workshops be conducted annually, if not for all employees, then on a rotating schedule that gives everyone regular access to the training whether they want it or not. Many organizations have found it necessary not only to provide ongoing workshops, but also to provide one-on-one sessions with human resources counselors for employees who continue to have trouble understanding what is expected of them.
That's the easy part.
The hard part falls to Stanton, who as city manager must communicate to his department heads in unmistakable terms what kind of behavior will not be tolerated in the workplace. Then, those standards must be enforced in every department without exception.
The sad thing is that, just like in the private sector, some employees may have to lose their jobs before the lessons taught in the workshops are driven home.
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