Learning how to safely harass

Modern corporations have learned how important it is in this litigious society to anticipate legal action and proactively defend against it. While it’s still very difficult to predict customers’ reactions to potentially lethal product lines, it’s become somewhat easier to protect against employees who may be injured on the job. Workers might be able to throw themselves into the high-speed rollers of a hydraulic press, but the smart company can prove they were specifically trained to avoid death by crushing.

“We had a required course on that subject,” the human resources executive can claim. “He was taught not to do that.”

In this post-industrial age, most of this training is taking place on-line. Knowledge is power for today’s information worker. A well-educated workforce uses the learning culture that progressive companies maintain to keep them on the cutting edge of a globalized economy. How else will they keep up with the ever-changing phone numbers of their off-shore production facilities?

I recently received an email at my office telling me that some of my so-called compliance training was due. These courses have to be completed every year or so, lest you forget what qualifies as harassing behavior (John tells Sue “I’ll keep you out of the layoffs if you sleep with me”) or dangerous grooming habits (“unconfined ponytails are not an option on the manufacturing floor”). It was my harassment training that was required but I figured I’d take care of the safety stuff while I was signed on. I just hope I don’t get the two confused later and think it’s okay to sing sexually degrading songs as long as I’m wearing protective equipment.

He likes big butts and he cannot lie
He likes big butts and he cannot lie

Much of the training material offered is so obvious that you can take the certification test without any of that annoying “learning”. The point, after all, is not necessarily to make you a smarter person but rather to undermine any legal case you might be tempted to bring later. So they present you with a digestible chunk of information, then immediately ask you to regurgitate it for the record. By the way, keep in mind that you should report vomit, blood or Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIMs) as you would any other emergency.

The harassment piece covered sexual advances as well as other types of pestering based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin or disability. You can’t even tease coworkers’ relatives or friends about their clunky wheelchairs or their silly belief in some Almighty Animal or other ridiculous deity. This creates what’s called a “hostile work environment,” which can lead to a picture of a man running his fingers through his hair in obvious despair. Instead, we want an atmosphere where actors who are old, young, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, male and female can interlock their arms and smile for the camera. (Can you imagine putting a photo shoot for online corporate training on your acting resume? Talk about humiliation.)

I also learned about some of the more subtle forms of what is called risky behavior. While it’s fairly apparent that it would be improper to simulate sexual acts in front of Gail or scrawl racial epithets into the hood of Muhammad’s car, you may not have known that nicknames can be offensive as can commenting on body parts (“what a forearm!”) or saying hello in Spanish. They also give some good examples of behavior that stops just short of crossing the line into impropriety. For instance, it’s still acceptable to declare your home state’s football team is the best, or to post a picture of your pet on your wall, even if they’re naked.

It’s also important for employees to know how to react when they encounter conduct of others that may be wrong. You do, after all, represent the face of the company, even if you’re ugly. (Oops – sorry, HR). You can’t ignore the harassment; you should confront the harasser in a private conversation that’s direct not subtle, serious not casual. You don’t have to actually take down their offensive poster. Instead you should explain that Garfield’s distaste for Mondays could be misconstrued by sensitive staff members as a generalized prejudice against cartoon cats who were vaguely funny about 20 years ago.

At the end of the course, you take the test that proves you’ve learned the material. There are a few multiple-choice questions that might be a challenge, but it’s mostly only the two options of true or false. T or F? Following any investigation of a complaint, the results will be published on the internet (false). T or F? If harassment doesn’t stop after the confrontation, you should attack the harasser (false).

The segment on safety that I took next was even more straightforward, since there aren’t as many grey areas when it comes to matters of life or death. Beards can be no greater than 9.86 centimeters in length. You should never use a ladder unless you’ve been thoroughly trained to do so. Report fires or explosions of any magnitude. A sign that reads “Danger of Death/Keep Out” should be obeyed. Smile for the camera when you’re hoisting a large box, and be sure to lift with your legs and not your back, or maybe it’s the other way around.

Because this knowledge is so critical, a more thorough command of the information is required in the assessment. There are a few true/false subjects – it’s false that you should use metal cleaning pads to clean live electrical equipment – but most questions offer a blank that has to be filled in. “Remain outside the building until your supervisor has given the all-[blank] signal.” The snarky side of me wanted to answer “all-American” or “All My Children” or “all-inclusive.” I ultimately answered “clear” in case a weak moment made me retake the test.

My favorite fill-in-the-blank query is intended to be certain you understand the dangers of going into a “confined space” which, if not properly managed, can result in entrapment, poison-gassing or a desire to transfer there from your tiny cubicle. “You should contact your [blank] before entering a confined space” reads the statement, and the possible answers are “A. your supervisor; B. your OSHA representative; C. the CEO; or D. your family.”

I’d be afraid that A, B or C might constitute harassment of coworkers, so I think I’d opt for D, a final goodbye to my wife and son.

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3 Responses to “Learning how to safely harass”

  1. judibug007 Says:

    So enjoy your posts…….:)

  2. morethananelectrician Says:

    I just sat through an OSHA-10 class combined and slapped with a First Aid class right after that. At least those are good for two years. But after reading about the yearly classes, I tink it is possible that we work for the same company.

  3. Duffboy Says:

    Your post reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Homer arrives at the power plant wearing a pink shirt, and then Mr. Burns and Smithers single him out and then “He is promptly committed to a mental institution, where he meets up with a white man who walks and talks like Michael Jackson.”

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