“These nasty women have got to go!”
“Who put her in charge?”
“Honey, don’t interrupt.”
“What a bitch!”
We really see it all in the workplace.
But you know what nasty women do? They file charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the federal agency in charge of enforcing the anti-discrimination law Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Wait, wait, wait, you might say, come on, this is just harmless locker room banter, right?
No. It. Is. Not.
It’s not harmless at all, and such language has a real impact on workplace productivity and no place in your company’s culture. It’s also quite illegal.
When I mention sexual harassment or a hostile work environment, people often mistakenly believe this is about unwelcome or unwanted touching or propositioning. Not true.
This type of “locker room banter” or sex-based insults, like “bitch” or “nasty woman,” in the guise of an employee’s (or employees’) incessant and offensive wisecracks about women, may create a hostile work environment for the women in your company. Sexual harassment does not have to including inappropriate touching or sexual propositioning to constitute sexual harassment (though it surely is that too)—it can and does include offensive remarks about women in general that becomes so severe and pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment.
What An Employer Can Do If Preventative Measures Aren’t Enough—The Investigation
What should an employer do when a female employee complains about misogynistic comments made during meetings or a general aura of “bro culture”?
Well, last week, I talked a lot about prevention and the policies you, as an employer, should have in place, which should be followed and enforced.
But what can you actually do when a such a complaint walks in your door? You investigate. Promptly and thoroughly. Employers want to have a procedure in place to initiate a complete and impartial investigation about any alleged harassment. You’ll want to interview anyone involved and anyone who might have heard or been affected by such comments.
How long does it take? An investigation takes as long as it takes depending on the size of your company and, frankly, the pervasiveness of the problem.
Corrective Action and Interim Measures
While you’re investigating, you want to shut down the derogatory comments and trash-talking that has been occurring. EEOC Guidance provides some examples of appropriate measures to take during an investigation:
- Make scheduling changes so as to avoid contact between the involved parties;
- Transfer the alleged harasser or place the alleged harasser on non-disciplinary leave with pay pending the conclusion of the investigation;
- Do not transfer or otherwise burden the complainant since such measures could constitute unlawful retaliation, which we wrote about here and here.
Look, your female employees, nasty or otherwise, do not appreciate this kind of talk. Your workplace should be free of such behavior because you know what other kind of unwanted attention this kind of talk can engender?
The kind your company doesn’t want—an EEOC claim and investigation.