“Do CEOs get trained on harassment?” That was the question from a lovely individual who recently went through the wringer of having to let a C-suite-level leader go in her organization. My answer was “they should.”
Based on media reports over the past year, it doesn’t appear that CEOs, anyone in the C-suite actually get harassment training. They may pay for training for their own staff and even for managers, but requiring the attendance of CEOs and even boards of directors appears to be few and far between. In just the past year, CEOs at the following companies have either stepped down in the midst of scandal or were fired:
These are prominent companies. Companies with significant public profiles. Leaders who should have known better. Leaders who did not receive training, who did receive training and didn’t comprehend the consequences, or who simply didn’t care. It’s quite possible that’s where we are – some leaders may believe the rules do not apply to them.
The law has a different view. The law says that CEOs ARE your organization. When they engage in harassment, the organization is automatically liable. (Yes, you read that correctly. Automatically. Look at Section VI in the link.) Because CEOs – no matter the size of your organization – are your public face, they are the “alter ego” of the organization. What they do binds the organization in business and in harassment. For this reason, CEOs need to understand the gravity that comes with their bad decisions and actions. They must understand that sending an inappropriate text, making a sexual request, or touching an employee improperly has significant consequences. That it can even force the closure or bankruptcy of the organization. It could be the end of the road.
So, I’m issuing you a challenge HR friends. As you get ready for 2019 and you organize your training schedule for the year, include your leaders in harassment training. Involve your board of directors. Make sure that they attend. Go over what happens if they engage in harassment. Explain the investigative process –their technology will be reviewed, including texts and emails. If you do this, you’ll help protect your organization and hopefully prevent harassment.
Quick story – I once did two trainings for a company. On the first day, I trained all the managers and leadership, including the CEO. The second day, I trained employees. To show how important the training was to the company, the CEO introduced me. He started with the expected “we take this very seriously” and then said, “I think you’ll like Kate, she’s loose.” Now, he meant that I was not a stuffy attorney, but nevertheless, that was lesson number one of the training. He turned all sorts of red, apologized immediately, and we all had a laugh. I promise you, no one in that organization who was there will forget that and everyone learned something.
If you need help planning your training, take a look here.