Flirting with Disaster

by | Farr Factor

About 20 years ago, nationwide TV audiences were educated by force to the concept and definition of sexual harassment via the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The hearings were initiated to review the qualifications of Mr. Thomas to serve as justice in our nation’s highest court. And, as the phrase goes, “It’s all history” since then, as it relates to the subject of sexual harassment. Prior to those hearings and Ms. Hill’s testimony about her working relationship with Justice Thomas, no one knew much about sexual harassment as a malady of the workplace. Not any more… well at least, not for those who feel they are a victim of a harassing employer.

Even some of the most uneducated and least street-wise of workers knows the term “sexual harassment” and what it involves. For true victims, that’s a good thing; but there are those who cry “sexual harassment (wolf)” when the truth is something else. Regardless of what someone’s motives are, any boss who engages in sexual harassment in today’s work force has got to be nuts!

And yet, sexual harassment is fairly common in the indoor tanning industry. For review, there are three specific types of sexual harassment. There’s the obvious quid pro quo or, “Have sex with me and I’ll give you a raise”. There’s the “hostile environment” type that places an employee in a situation where they feel they’re victims of a workplace that favors others or offends them from the standpoint of language or actions of employers or co-workers and, the most prevalent for tanning salons, “third party” sexual harassment – the latter usually perpetrated by a product vendor or customer. All three need to be taken seriously and at the Power Group Companies, we often have to educate our client’s employees, as well as their bosses, about the legal as well as morale downfall from allowing inappropriate workplace behavior.

But, education and training aside, I’m here to say that sexual harassment of all kinds is alive and well. Example: A client/ multi-salon business owner who started a “close working relationship” with a manager four years ago has discovered that now, he can’t get out of that “relationship” because of some real or implied form of blackmail. It seems that most complaints about that particular manager from customers and fellow staff fall on deaf ears with both the manager and the owner – who is now in a precarious position. If he fires her because of poor “work performance”, she’ll probably go after him with a sexual harassment charge. (We know this, because she’s already stated what she’ll do!). But worse, a termination would probably prompt a phone call from the manager to the owner’s wife! Talk about your real life reality show…

So, what does he do? More important is what should he have not done? That answer may seem obvious; but there are many real sexual harassment charges and situations that could be avoided if management would simply keep that professional line between them and their staff. A standard of performance and fairness is critical to avoiding legal salon employment issues, as well as preserving morale and keeping your business out of court. The owner in this situation is currently negotiating with his manager to walk away with a large cash settlement in turn for granting him a legal release of all obligations. However, it’s hard to say what that release will mean to his wife!

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