Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Corporate Punishment

(Apologies for the title, but I couldn't resist). So, I came across this article on Wasted Blog today. It is one of those scenarios where I'm not quite sure which surprises me more. The gist of the story is that a woman is suing for sexual harassment because in the team meeting, employees were spanked for various infractions, be they arriving late to the meeting or interrupting people. In addition, the other employees would heckle the spankee with such comments as, "Bend over, Baby!" and "You've been a bad girl".

So, I will go in order of occurrence (or as close as I can tell).
In this day and age, it is not appropriate to spank co-workers. The fact that the spanking occurs in a group setting and is a theoretically standard practice does not make it okay. Even if everyone participating says they are okay with it - it is not okay.

As, I have mentioned I work with teenagers. And one of the things we have struggled to convey to them is that there are things you might be totally okay with doing that are going to make other people uncomfortable. And not everybody is comfortable expressing their discomfort. Yes, in a perfect world people would always speak up in these situations, and in return their peers would appreciate their honesty rather than shaming them for being a [insert the derogatory term of choice here]. But that is not the case.

And so sexual harassment laws exist not just to protect people from being coerced into having sex, but also to make sure that the work environment does its best to respect everyone's level of comfort - expressed and unexpressed.

Color me equally surprised about the comments made by other employees. They - while innocuous on the surface - didn't help the situation feel less sexually charged. I recognize there was probably those who were simply trying to lighten the mood, after all dead silence would have been creepy in a different way. And some probably heckled to cover their own discomfort.

But really, in a team meeting?

Now, it seems that the employee who has brought the suit did not vocalize her discomfort. It is unclear from the article whether the company had an HR for her to bring this issue to. Certainly the fact that her supervisor was the one doing the spanking made that a tougher conversation to start. And again, I must return to, should you have to tell your supervisor that spanking is not appropriate workplace behavior?

But, when reached for comment the company responded, in part, that the spanking were to increase morale and build camaraderie. Huh? By making the employees all hate the spanker? By encouraging them to find another company that doesn't condone spanking? By getting the employees to plot together how to get said spanker back?

The company also stated that they spanked both male and female employees. That drives me crazy. So the sexual harassment is okay, because is wasn't based on gender discrimination? What? Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, whether it involves one gender or two (or three). Encouraging inappropriate touching of all employees is not better than not doing it.