Saturday, October 01, 2005

Here comes the morals police

Great post from Mark Kleiman about a new California law requiring "anyone with supervisory responsibilities" to undergo training in "sexual harassment prevention." At UCLA, where Kleiman teaches, "anyone with supervisory responsibilities" is defined so as to include "chairs, deans, principal investigators, and any faculty who have teaching assistants or research assistants, in addition to staff supervisors and managers."

Says Kleiman:

The whole concept is, I submit, deeply offensive.

Let's consider the notion of "training," shall we? I know what it means to "train" a puppy, or even an infant. But what, pray tell, does it mean to "train" an adult human being? I can train for a skill or a performance (chest surgery, say, or running a marathon), by building up the appropriate muscles, reflexes, and habits. But what does it mean to "train" someone about how not to be a sexual predator in the workplace? Are we to practice not demanding sexual favors from our subordinates? Do obnoxious-language-avoidance drills?

No, we can sit there as some staff drone or contractor either recites from a policy manual or tries to "raise our sensitivity": i.e., attempts to indoctrinate us. To paraphrase the caption (by E.B. White) of one of my favorite cartoons, I say it's Maoism, and I say to hell with it.

Here's a question for my readers learned in the law: Can the state lawfully require, as a condition of my employment, that I endure being preached at? Can it require
that my employer discipline me for refusing to sit through two hours of offensive boredom?


Well said. To make this even more offensive, by the way, the law requires that the sexual harassment prevention training be repeated every two years (apparently in case the dogs have forgotten their lessons).

By the way, Kleiman is likely to find that the "training" targets behavior that doesn't even start to rise to the level of sexual predation. The sexual harassment prevention materials I've seen (admittedly all going back a few years, but I doubt that much has changed) espouse a grim puritanical ideology that seeks to exterminate all sexual humor and innuendo, and even innocent compliments on personal appearance or clothing. Courtship is allowed, but only as a one-shot deal: once you've been turned down, any further attempts are verboten (a rule that would effectively nix a lot of marriages).

The feminist war on sexual harassment, another good cause gone awry, has faded from the news lately; but, as Kleiman reminds us, it is definitely still with us. Let's not forget that coercive attempts to regulate personal behavior are just as likely to come from the left as from the right.

21 comments:

thecobrasnose said...

You really should listen to Loveline--Adam Carolla goes off on this very topic every couple of nights.

angry young man said...

what a waste of time. the lawyers have taken over.

Unbridled Greed said...

Cathy, I respect the heck out of you, but I think that you (and Kleiman) are off the mark on this one. The reason why most (all?) employers require this training is not that they're trying to be politically correct, but that they want to limit their exposure to lawsuits from harassees. While angry young man blames the lawyers for this, it's really the legislature(s) that should be blamed. If you disapprove of this state of affairs, then work for the repeal of Title VII and other statutes that have given employees causes of action for sexual harassment.

(Also, Kleiman's riff on "training," while amusing, sounds a little whiny.)

Dean said...

I agree with Unbridled Greed (you know, if someone told me twenty years ago that I would write that line...) on Kleiman's complaining about the word 'training'.

However, UG misses the point: the training in California is by law.

Anyway, I've noticed a lot of backlash (maybe I shouldn't use that word) against this sort of bullshit in the last few years. People are flirting again, although at a much more restrained level than 25 years ago.

Unbridled Greed said...

Dean, thanks for the correction. You're absolutely right -- the new law requires ALL California employers with 50 or more employees to provide the training every 2 years. (I had previously thought it applied only to the government in its role as employer.)

Given the above, there's no question that (as Ayn Rand would say) this law is EVIL. Someone tell me again how Republicans differ from Democrats?

Cathy Young said...

UG, I was just going to reply to you and point out that the "training" is required by law, but I see that dean has already done that.

Also, I would point out that the reason employers are so vulnerable to lawsuits over this is that at least since 1991, the law in this area has been shaped by PC insanity.

Anonymous said...

You would think people would have better things to spend their time complaining about nowdays than being forced to sit in an air conditioned room for two hours and listen to something they might already know while they are likely fed snacks and maybe free lunch. This guy must have it real good, I know I have bigger problems.

Particularly in today's climate. Go back to your other topics please. Way more interesting. I've sat through two of these now in a period of 1 year (change of jobs). One lasted the whole afternoon. I don't need this training. I don't need a lot of training. I sat through it. And guess what, I lived. When I was actually listening, I even learned a little about gender perceptions.

Please go back to talking about the war or the supreme court or something else that might really matter.

xwpweb said...

Having been forced into "sensitivity" training through my work, I can testify that it's a pure waste of time. We were all cracking up because of the "you can't say this, do that or suggest this or be like this" rules.

Yeah, we all lived through it and had a few good laughs along the way. But in the end, and this was 6 or 7 years ago, it was a pure waste of 15 minutes.

We know what it is appropriate behavior in the workplace. No reason to train me for that.

Anonymous said...

Hello all,

Because I can, I think I'll play devil's advocate. I've been forced to attend these things too, and by now, one would hope they wouldn't be necessary. However, I recall that in the first 2 trainings I had to attend, we were asked if anyone had personally experienced sexual harrassment. 90% of the women raised their hands. They described their experiences, and in almost every case, what they described met the legal definition of sexual harrassment. Admittedly, all these trainings and rules and all are overkill, but they were set up to address a real problem. What do you propose to replace them with?

Unbridled Greed said...

Anonymous, I can't speak for the other commenters, but my problem isn't with the concept of training. It's with the concept that the government should force all employers to conduct such training. I think it should be up to each employer to decide whether to provide such training. Theoretically, if this is a real problem (as your experience suggests it is), then employers that provide such training will be able to attract better employees than those that don't provide the training, with the result that the former will out-compete the latter.

Anonymous said...

The idea of employers who provide better training attracting better talent is crazy. Too many other factors including pay and benefits offered (as well as currently not a heck of a lot of choice for prospective employees) to make it to most people's job radar screens. Now if there were some public incidents, then some candidates may try and steer clear. However, this will never amount to enough to change the behavior of employers. Unfortunately only costly lawsuits seem to do that (thus most employers do this as a positive piece of proof for potential litigation already).

By the way, I went to a few of these and being a man at an all man's table was surprised at how many people think their offensive comments are OK, because the workplace would not be that same old fun workplace without them. May be true but it shows there certainly is still some problem here.

This reminds me of when people claim there is no racism anymore. Maybe not from your perspective or where you live.

Revenant said...

The reason why most (all?) employers require this training is not that they're trying to be politically correct, but that they want to limit their exposure to lawsuits from harassees

Most employers don't require any such training at all, let alone every two years. Furthermore there is a world of difference between employers mandating "training" in order to avoid lawsuits, and the state maintaining "training" just because.

Unbridled Greed said...

Anonymous -- If the issue of a reduced level of harassment does not "make it to most people's job radar screens," then it would follow that the issue is not as important to employees as some would have it.

Take a situation where we have two pharmaceutical companies in the same city. Both companies need to hire biochemists. They're therefore competing over the supply of biochemists. Then assume that one of the companies is located in a safe suburban neighborhood, while the other is located in a high-crime industrial neighborhood. All other things being equal, the suburban company will most likely find it easier to attract biochemists than the other company. The suburban company will thus be in a stronger position. I assume this is not controversial reasoning.

Now let's say we have two pharma companies, but the difference between them is that one requires its management to attend sexual harassment seminars, while the other does not. And let's assume that those seminars actually do make a difference & reduce the amount of sexual harassment at the one company. If being free from sexual harassment is important to biochemists, then the company that has the seminars will have an easier time attracting biochemists than the other company and will therefore be at a competitive advantage as against the other company.

You seem to be arguing that the seminars won't have any effect on hiring and/or competitiveness. If that's in fact the case, then either (a) biochemists really don't care significantly about working in an environment with greater harassment (or they don't care so much that it will cause them to choose one employer over another), or (b) there's what economists call market failure (i.e., there's a wrench in the works that's keeping normal market forces from working). Off the top of my head, I can't think of any realistic market-failure source in this scenario.

Anonymous said...

Hello again and thanks for responding,

Based on my experience, I certainly do consider sexual harrassment to be a REAL problem. However, I don't support mandated government training programs. I just don't think it is the role of the government. That being said, I submit that it in the best interest of companies to offer some kind of sexual harassment training along the lines of what behavior the company will and won't tolerate. It is in their best interest because a) it limits the likelihood of a lawsuit, b) it helps keep quality employees (training won't attract employees, but if employees have been harrassed and have some recourse, they may stay), and c) it helps stave off a public relations nightmare. Where the government needs to be involved is in tough enforcement of existing laws, particularly whistleblower protections. So, in answering my own question, what would I substitute for training? Better enforcement.

Anonymous said...

If you think that ecomomic theory plays out so smoothly in the real world thats up to you. The problem is that the sexual harrassment incidents happen on a one time here, one time there type level. Or at least at a person and not a company wide level. I agree with you if it was rampant in a company it may economically work as your theories suggest. There are incidents here and there though and companies don't get reputations as being sexual harrassment zones.....a manager might inside a particulalry business, but not the company.............
.......try to think of ten companies you know that have a reputation for being harrassment zones you discuss. You won't be able to genuinly do this. Yet, lawsuits still have been won for this behavior against many companies.

My company has a great reputation for respecting employees, yet the high level manager that sits next to me is sexually offensive all the time. The new hires didn't know this. Theres no way they could.

Revenant said...

My company has a great reputation for respecting employees, yet the high level manager that sits next to me is sexually offensive all the time.

Being sexually offensive isn't the same thing as committing sexual harassment. If I say "man, I love big tits" women may be offended, but that doesn't mean I'm harassing them by saying it.

It is the difference between saying "Christ died for our sins" and "if you want that raise I expect to see you in church".

Cathy Young said...

Interesting discussion, everyone.

Just a few comments:

anonymous:

However, I recall that in the first 2 trainings I had to attend, we were asked if anyone had personally experienced sexual harrassment. 90% of the women raised their hands. They described their experiences, and in almost every case, what they described met the legal definition of sexual harrassment.

The actual "legal definition" of sexual harassment is that sexualized behavior or sexual expression in the workplace must be not simply unwelcome or offensive, but it must substantially interfere with your ability to perform your job or create a substantially hostile/unequal environment for you.

By the way, I went to a few of these and being a man at an all man's table was surprised at how many people think their offensive comments are OK, because the workplace would not be that same old fun workplace without them. May be true but it shows there certainly is still some problem here.

This reminds me of when people claim there is no racism anymore. Maybe not from your perspective or where you live.


I have also heard from a lot of women who (like xwpweb here) think the restrictive rules about what you can and can't say are ridiculous.

I don't think you can get rid of all unwelcome or offensive sexual expression in the workplace without policing and sterilizing human interaction to a truly dismal degree.

Anonymous said...

Cathy,

I know the actual legal definition of sexual harrassment. I am glad you clarified it for others. I do just want to re-iterate that those women, had they sued, would have won a sexual harrassment claim, because their experiences where consistent with the LEGAL definition of sexual harrassment. I'VE been sexually harrassed. Thankfully, it hasn't happened in 15 years, but I work in a professional environment now. When I was young and had a low wage job that was paying for part of college, but I can tell you, it definitely interferes with your ability to do your job when a manager, more than once, comes up behind you, puts his hands on your posterior, and loudly announces what he wants to do to you sexually. It isn't just humiliating and demeaning, which rattles you and makes it harder to focus on work and relate to customers and co-workers, it is scary. I couldn't stop wondering if I would be in real danger left alone with him.

Cathy Young said...

anonymous -- thanks for clarifying your point. My question is, does anyone really need to be "trained" to understand that the kind of behavior you described is inappropriate?

Cathy Young said...

By the way, you have my sympathy -- sounds like you've had some pretty bad experiences.

Anonymous said...

Cathy,

Thanks for the support. It was a bad experience. Actually, I don't support government sponsored training(which I stated earlier, it is just hard to tease that out with the other anonymouses). I do think, though, it is a good idea for companies to let their staff know what the law is and that violations won't be tolerated. As far as I am concerned, that 'training' could be done in about 15 minutes during any employee orientation.