Nobody wants to be the villain in a story.
I was a manager at my company for over a decade. Every year I had positive performance reviews and I was rewarded with a raise. Every year, even when others were disloyal or unproductive, I did my best to keep things running on time.
I thought that meant I was doing a good job.
My team and I got along well, or so I thought. I was always there with a smile and a joke when things got rough. I was even ready with a friendly pat on the back when employees seemed really down. I ran the team like my dad ran our family – firm, but fair.
So, imagine my surprise when I was called into human resources. I sat down in Michelle’s office, not sure what I was about to face.
“Daniel,” Michelle said, “I’ve been getting some complaints from your team about your behavior. It seems some of them consider your behavior to be harassment and they would like something to be done about it.” Click here for more information about the definition of sexual harassment.
I’m not going to lie. I was shocked. I was stunned. I absolutely could not believe it.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “I’m a great manager. Just look at my reviews. They’ve all been positive. Whoever told you that I was harassing them is a liar.”
She looked at me over her glasses. The silence stretched out between us. It gave me time to think. I was just stewing in my own juices. I couldn’t believe it.
This was so unfair.
“It’s more than one person, Dan,” she said. Her voice was cold. She had always been so friendly to me before. I couldn’t imagine her ever looking at me the same way again. It was humiliating.
“Just tell me who it is,” I said. “I’ll talk to them about it. I’m sure this has all been a big misunderstanding. I’ll explain to them that I just like to joke around. They should be able to take a joke.”
“That’s the thing, Dan,” Michelle said. “If it bothers them, then it counts as harassment. It doesn’t matter what your intention was when you told the joke.”
“I can just clear this up in a couple of minutes,” I promised. I was sure that I could.
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” Michelle said. She had a stack of paperwork in front of her. I felt my stomach sink. I was sure I was about to get fired.
It wasn’t fair! I wanted to shout it as loud as I could. How could they fire me without hearing my side of the story?
I was being persecuted unfairly. I had a family to support. They couldn’t just cut off ten years of exemplary service in one day, could they?
While I was freaking out inside, Michelle was still talking.
“It’s not entirely your fault,” she said. “The company has neglected to fill the California sexual harassment training requirement, and so you were unaware of how your behavior could be perceived by your subordinates.
“You should be proud of your team. Because they spoke up, leadership realized that there has been a sexual harassment problem here that has never been addressed. Starting next week, everyone, not just you, will attend a sexual harassment training session.”
I was floored. A second ago I was sure I was going to be fired, and now here she was telling me that all I had to do was go to the same training as everyone else and my job would be secure.
Normally, the last thing I would want to do in the whole entire world would be to attend a day-long training session. Sitting still in one room, listening to someone drone on and on – that’s like, the worst thing in the world to me.
I’m a people person. I’ve gotta be out there, shaking hands, making things happen. That’s where I really shine.
But it was certainly better than the alternative. I found that I was grateful for the second chance. Click the link: https://oag.ca.gov/workplace-sexual-harassment for more information about California’s laws.
Getting it Right
When we first entered the conference room for our training session, I was nervous. What was this going to be like?
I thought that I was going to be attacked by my team in front of everyone. Why had I thought this was such a good idea?
But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
I learned a lot from the presentation. Was I happy about it? No.
But as I called out in front of everyone? No, I wasn’t. And when I left that afternoon, I had a clear picture of what was expected of me in the workplace – because I still had my job.