Safeguarding the Workplace: Lessons from San Diego

StopThe following comments were recently sent to all Episcopal schools in the Diocese of Los Angeles by Serena E. Beeks, executive director of the diocese’s Commission on Schools.

Recent news items about workplace sexual harassment from the office of the Mayor of San Diego prompted much eye-rolling and head-shaking across the country and inspired me to write a bit of a “rant” and a reminder about our responsibilities for appropriate training for our school employees and volunteers. I was struck with two of the remarks the Mayor made in his public apology, one of which rang true and the other of which made me talk back to the person on my radio, never a good sign.

The first was his assessment that his misbehavior, which he admitted and for which he took responsibility, was a “mixture of hubris and awkwardness.” That is the nature of so much workplace harassment—the awkwardness of someone trying to be friendly and just getting it wrong, crossing a boundary, being tacky and inappropriate, misjudging. The hubris comes into the mix when the person who crosses the line is the boss or supervisor, in a situation where the employee doesn’t feel comfortable responding or protesting. What the Mayor didn’t understand was that no matter how “approachable” he thought he was being, there were people who worked for him who did not feel comfortable speaking up to him about his inappropriate words and actions. As “bosses” we have to assume that we are not getting very accurate feedback on our performance from most of our employees. The burden is on us to figure out what is appropriate and what is not. It’s helpful to refer back to the questions virtually every harassment training program suggests we ask of ourselves:

  • Would you say/do this if your spouse/partner/mother/a student were here?
  • Would you feel comfortable if you saw your remark/action in print in the school newspaper?
  • Would you want someone to make this same joke/remark/action to your spouse/partner/mother/child?

Another fairly simple rule which might have helped the Mayor is that we should not say/do something which is social in nature to one member of the staff/parent body/student body that we would not say/do to any other member of that same group. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “But I know who is more of a friend and who’s just another employee.” Congratulations—you could be Mayor of San Diego, because he doubtless told himself that very same thing.

The second statement, the one to which I objected, was that the Mayor said that although he had done everything people said he had done, he had “never sexually harassed anyone.” My comment to him was, “WRONG!” If you had taken your Safeguarding God’s People training, you would know that your inappropriate comments and actions legally constituted sexual harassment, no matter what your intentions might have been.” (I was stuck in traffic, so I had plenty of time to talk back to him.) And that reminded me to remind all of us about what both the Church and the State require of us.

All employees and regular volunteers at any Episcopal institutions are required to take the Safeguarding training. Training is in the area of Child Abuse Prevention (Safeguarding God’s Children) and Sexual Misconduct and Harassment Prevention (Safeguarding God’s People.) This training is available on-line for free. Signing up employees is easy. The program keeps track for you of who has completed the training and can even produce certificates. For those of you not in the diocese of Los Angeles, note that this is available for every diocese in the Episcopal Church, but your diocese must sign up its churches and institutions.

In addition, in California if a company or other workplace has 50 or more employees (and in counting to 50 you must include regular employees of on-site contractors such as your cleaning and gardening services, although their companies are responsible for their training), every person who supervises at least one other person must have training in workplace harassment including investigation and other legal issues with regard to supervision. It is not yet available through the Safeguarding program but we are hoping it will be soon. Training is available for a fee on-line at a variety places.

Yours for appropriate behavior all the time and everywhere,

Serena Evans Beeks, Executive Director
Diocesan Commission on Schools
Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles