The resignation of former Hawaii House Speaker Joe Souki to resolve sexual harassment claims is a wake-up call for Hawaii employers who thought the #MeToo movement would not happen here. It’s happening.

Now, employers need to take action on three fronts: the past, present and future.

For the past, they need to determine if harassment occurred and they did not handle it appropriately. They may have ignored gossip about harassment, discouraged complaints, or given a wrist-slap where termination was in order.

In the present, employers need to work with an attorney to revisit past actions and make amends. If gossip was ignored or complaints discouraged, investigations may now be warranted. If someone should have been terminated but wasn’t, termination may be advisable now.

Allow Anonymous Complaints

Employers need to evaluate current working conditions. Is there a “boys will be boys” atmosphere with crude jokes, innuendoes, and sexist comments? Is there a high turnover of women employees who report to certain managers? Are there inappropriate posters, cards or screensavers in the workplace?

They can conduct an anonymous employee survey about the general climate in their workplace, which can include questions about harassment, bullying and disrespect.

House Speaker Joe Souki. 2 may 2017

Speaker Joseph Souki in May 2017. His sexual harassment settlement is lesson for Hawaii workplaces.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The current harassment policy should be reviewed. Does it simply regurgitate the law, or does it set a higher standard, as it should? Make sure it doesn’t suffer from the same defect as the Legislature’s policy, which requires complaints against the speaker to go to the speaker.

A policy should address how to make complaints against the head of HR, the CEO and the owner of the company. It also should allow for anonymous complaints, which need to be investigated impartially.

For the future, the only way employers can protect themselves from liability is to create respectful workplaces. This goes beyond prohibiting and preventing harassment. It requires an understanding of the unconscious biases that research shows most of us — men and women — have. It means honoring, rather than disparaging, the different perspectives women bring to the workplace. These outcomes can be achieved with the right kind of training for managers and employees.

When it comes to harassment, all of us fall on a bell-shaped curve.

In my training workshops, men often lament that the workplace is different now. They can’t joke the way they used to, they’re afraid to give an aloha hug, they feel they’re walking on eggshells. I express empathy for their discomfort. And then I ask them to have empathy for us women and men who have felt uncomfortable all these years with the way things have been.

When it comes to harassment, all of us fall on a bell-shaped curve. At one end are the saints who would never harass; they don’t need training. At the other end are flawed people — narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths, bullies, sex addicts — many of whom were abused as children. Training probably won’t stop them.

Most of us land in the middle. For us, I think it’s fair to make some assumptions. Our hearts are in the right place. We’ve been doing the best we can. We have unconscious bias. We make mistakes. We’ve hurt others. We have been hurt. We want to be respected. We want to do the right thing. We can change ourselves when we’re aware. And, I believe, women and men working together can change the world.

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