Sexual harassment warning signs

By Ren, InfoWorld |  Career

LEGAL RESEARCHERS ARE finding that budding dot-coms and start-ups, focused on
lightning-speed time to market, are particularly susceptible to sexual harassment.
According to Chuck Samel, general manager of Legal Knowledge Development at Legal
Research Network, in Los Angeles, emerging companies fall into murky waters because
they generally fail to hire HR professionals early to assist with hiring and policy
setting; they fail to educate employees early on; employees tend to be less experienced
and less likely to have had training; casual environments can mislead employees to
think that anything goes; and very long work hours limit the opportunity for employees
to socialize outside of work. Managers should look for the following red flags.

1. Inappropriate behavior

Managers should note inappropriate sexual comments, jokes, flirting, or use of
affectionate terms, Samel explains. "A more subtle indication of this is workplace
discussion of sexual relationships," Samel says. "When employees that develop
friendships at work start to discuss more private or confidential details, it's a sign
that the atmosphere is too relaxed."

2. Inappropriate physical contact

Samel says that aside from obviously inappropriate contact, managers should watch
for any touching that appears suggestive. Managers should let employees know
immediately if something is inappropriate.

3. Sexually explicit materials

According to Samel, dot-coms are seeing more sexually explicit materials in the
work area than traditional companies: screen savers, posters, Web sites, and other
inappropriate items. "Managers need to take steps to make sure [they are] removed
immediately, and that employees are told what's inappropriate," Samel says.

4. Very young employees

Samel says incidents where very young, high-school age employees are hired without
unique skills, but possibly with connections to an employee or manager, are a red flag
because sexual relationships are usually involved. "There could be exceptions for a
genius software engineer, but most of the time there's a bigger problem," Samel
says.

5. Staying with co-workers

Samel has noticed more out-of-town employees at dot-coms staying at co-workers' or
managers' homes -- something he hasn't seen in established companies. "It would be
money well spent by these companies to put employees up in a hotel," Samel says.

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