Q&A: How do I recognize and prevent sexual harassment, even when it’s remote?

Danny Speros, Director of People Ops, Zenefits
Mar 11, 2021

The line between what’s appropriate and what’s not can easily become blurred when working remotely. Sadly, just because our jobs are more remote, that doesn’t remove the potential for harassment.

Therefore, diligence to watch for and prevent harassment is even more important in the new remote or hybrid work world.

Sexual harassment is incredibly destructive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t disappear just because teams are working remotely. How do you recognize and prevent it, even when it’s not happening in an office?

In this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Sr. Director of People Danny Speros breaks down the different types of harassment and offers best practices on addressing and mitigating it in the remote environment.

In this Q&A, you’ll hear:

  • [00:41-01:34] What quid-pro-quo and a hostile work environment involves
  • [01:16-03:30] Signs to look for harassment in a remote setting
  • [03:36-4:25 ] How to signal for help virtually if you’re experiencing harassment

POPS Star Bio

Danny comes from a family of entrepreneurs and spent 8 years running the family construction business including HR, Sales, Operations and Accounting. He understands the joys and challenges of building a business and learned a lot about how to avoid some common pitfalls. This context fuels his passion for working with other small businesses at Zenefits. Today, Danny taps more than 20 years of People Ops and small business leadership in his role as Senior Director of People at Zenefits. This makes him a great guest expert for the podcast, so you’ll hear from him often.  And you might just catch an occasional cameo from his young daughter in the background.

After you listen:

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Danny: How do I recognize and prevent sexual harassment, even if it’s remote? 

Didi: Welcome to POPS! the show that shows you how to shift from human resources, paperwork to people, operations for the new world of work Havel by answering one question at a time.

Today to help us answer your question. Here’s Danny Speros, the Director of People Operations 

Danny: Sexual harassment is something that can be absolutely crippling to your workplace culture. And it’s something that’s also very much illegal. It generally involves either. What’s known as a quid pro quo, kind of a, this for that, or a hostile work environment.

In a quid pro quo, that’s generally something like a manager, a person of authority, a leader, making an offer to someone requesting demanding, suggesting some sort of romantic or sexual or dating situation in exchange for something to do with employment. And Hey, let’s go out on a date and an exchange.

I’ll put you at the top of the list for that promotion. Absolutely disgusting, but it happens. And so it’s something to be aware of. The other thing that can happen is a hostile work environment, and that can be anything ranging from graphics or something. That’s in the workplace that another employee happens to oversee or just talk conversations, repeated romantic advances, things along those lines can add up to hostile work environment.

Couple of things to look for. Particularly in a remote setting and no, the stuff hasn’t disappeared in remote settings, the first-off office romance, just because we’re all remote the office romance, hasn’t gone away just because we’re not seeing each other in the workplace on a regular basis. Doesn’t mean that people don’t still see each other outside of that.

And I’m sure we all know a happily married couple that we met through work, but if you’ve got a scenario where. You’ve got lots of dating, lots of hooking up amongst coworkers. I mean, it can lead to situations where one person just has an uncomfortable feeling at the end of a relationship. And another thing to keep an eye out for is social media.

Social media may not be necessarily thought of in the workplace all the time, but it can. Come into the workplace, even beyond like social media and environments, you may just have, and I know locker talk is essentially the bottom of the barrel now, but even just like edgy jokes and humor, what’s funny to one person might not be so funny to another in scenarios where teams like have this sort of banter or back and forth.

That seems funny to them. It may be making one person feel uncomfortable. So keep an eye out for that. Now were, those are scenarios that you can keep an eye out for in general, that may lead to sexual harassment. Some real specific signs of sexual harassment might be that someone is withdrawing their engagement.

Their attitude changes sometimes drastically in a short period of time. Now that can be caused by a lot of different things, but it can be that where they once were comfortable in their work environment. They’re no longer comfortable because of something that happened. And it’s important to just check in with employees to make sure that they’re doing all right.

And then also, I know after a long career in HR, it feels like people run to me with all of their problems. The truth is they don’t, it’s important to know that sometimes problems don’t come straight to the HR team or the people team or to leadership. So it’s important to educate your leaders, your managers, to just keep an eye out for all of these things and to know what to do when they see it, or when someone comes to them for help.

And then lastly, want to leave you with something that came up in the course of the pandemic, a group called the women’s funding network in response to an increase in domestic violence in America, as a result of people staying in homes and not necessarily having outlets came up with a way to signal. So it’s a signal for help and came up with a way to signal that somebody is in trouble and wants help.

And the way that one can do that open, faced hand on a zoom meeting. Thumb across the hand fingers down. Now, if somebody is doing that, it means that they actually, may need some help. And so if you want to share that with your teams, share that with your people. It’s a way that we can help each other and help prevent domestic violence, sexual violence, and even possibly sexual harassment from happening in homes, in the workplace, and for our teams.

Didi: Do you have a question for our experts? Click the link in the show notes, or if you’ve got other ideas and feedback about our show, send them to [email protected].


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About The People Ops Podcast

Every week, we share the decisions, struggles, and successes for keeping up with an evolving workforce and a changing workplace. No matter if you’ve been in HR or are just getting started, this combination of transformational stories with actionable ideas, as well as context on hot issues, keeps you up-to-date while answering the questions you didn’t even know you had.

Oh, and you know what they say about all work and no play? We tossed in a little levity to keep it real. Lessons, answers, and humor: everywhere you listen to podcasts.

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