Workplace Harassment – It’s Not Just about Women! Bill Spindloe


workplace harrassment

Bill Spindloe our regular contributor brings our attention to a topic increasingly coming to the fore in The Middle East.
The first Sexual Harassment case I dealt with was between a man and another man.

Before I go on, let me first tell you, that Human Resources can lack, what might be termed as,  glamour at times. Reading Employment Law is not the most fun thing you can do with your day, believe me.  I had colleagues at the time, who frankly would have been rubbing their hands together with glee at the excitement of a good old fashioned juicy, sexual harassment case, this one however had a few complications. Firstly it was between 2 men. I had always, like many of us, never thought of this being anything other than being between a woman and a man. I was also on my first foreign assignment where there were actual laws applied to this subject. Laws that I was fairly unfamiliar with. My first was in the Middle East. It wasn’t a topic ever discussed. I probably wasn’t entirely equipped for this one.

Back to the plot. One man, an openly Gay employee, claimed that he was being harassed by his male boss. His boss was married with 2 young children. The accusation was that on multiple occasions the boss had made, for decencies sake, what can only be termed as certain suggestions of a sexual nature, where the accused had made it clear that one good turn deserved another, so to speak.  It was the classic Prid Pro Quo.

Statements were taken,  accusations were vividly described by the accuser and found myself and my colleague, assisting in taking the statement, were wincing quite a lot. I also spent quite a lot of my day walking around with a slightly haunted look, I was informed.  The accused was mortified, as well someone might be if they felt they had been falsely accused of sexual harassment against another man. I’m not a psychologist, but it did seem genuine. There was not any signs of false surprise or indignation, simply what seemed to me to be real shock and horror that someone would accuse him of this.  I went back to recheck the statement of the accuser a second time. Something told me that I was about to hear a series of ‘oh and I forgot to tell you about something else he said’. That is exactly what I began to hear.  It started to sound like more of a well-crafted story rather than anything entirely truthful. The detail in the statement was also extra-ordinary.

I advised the accuser that in light of a lack of corroborating evidence that the investigation would continue, but at this point it was one person’s word against another. He became very agitated. Standing up, shouting and gesticulating wildly. It was then the real truth came out. He had been over-looked for promotion, repeatedly, he felt and his boss had clearly not appreciated what he felt he contributed to the organization, and it was ‘because he was gay !’

Eventually he retracted his statement, admitting the accusation was a lie, and walked out of the office forever. The sad part of this was that the man accused also left the next day. He didn’t feel he could continue with the company knowing that many would still harbor doubts as to the ‘real’ story. He felt that enough mud had been thrown and some of it would forever stick to him.

In the aftermath we conducted, as best we could, an investigation to assure ourselves that the manager in question and the company was not anti-gay. We found nothing to support this assertion.  We also looked at what may have prevented a situation like this occurring, concluding there had been no warning signs prior to the incident. We came to the conclusion there are frankly some kinds of workplace events, for which you simply cannot legislate. We did undertake a series of sessions with the staff advising them about harassment, the law and the process through which complaints could be made.  We also instituted an employee engagement survey annually, through a 3rd party. The board took some convincing about this one. I think they largely felt that sleeping dogs, should remain, well, sleeping.

Was there anything good that came of out of this one? Well the company lost a good manager, but I heard he was snapped up by another company very quickly. We did get to take a good look at who we were through the eyes of the law and our employees. I know we got a few organizational surprises, and it cost some money and time to fix them. But if you don’t know what is wrong, you will never get the opportunity to improve.

I was asked put together a report on Sexual Harassment for the company following the investigation. A fact that came out during the study was that globally the number of cases where the complainant was a man represented 15% of all complaints and that this was on the rise.  The vast majority were brought against female bosses. Many of the studies I read also indicated that in reality the numbers could be higher. As many as 70% of women, never make a complaint and that figure was likely to be higher with men.
And the reasons for this increase? Well there is less of the macho culture these days in many workplaces, underlined by a case some years ago that took place on an Oil Rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Assumed to be the most macho of working environments.  It is also true that there are simply more women in managerial and leadership roles and clearly this means that men no longer corner the market in this sort of  behavior .

While the number of sexual harassment cases overall has consistently declined in the past few years, “sexual harassment filings by men have consistently increased, doubling over 15 years,” says David Grinberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.

Bill Spindloe
Regional Director, PetroSkills Middle East

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