COMMNTRY, GLOBAL-DDU 5060D, GUEST COLUMN—HOW to Retain Those You Hire: The PsychoLegal Approach, * Training to Foster Empathy and Safety – SEXUAL HARASSMENT (submitted to CCH Online Sep 27, 2000)

GUEST COLUMN—How to Retain Those You Hire: The PsychoLegal Approach, *Training to Foster Empathy and Safety—SEXUAL HARASSMENT(submitted to CCH Online Sep 27, 2000)

By Lindy Korn, Esq. And David Appelbaum, Psy.D.

Workers are facing a new type of safety concern—psychological safety—according to a new study. When 13 percent of workers go to work, they are afraid of being harassed, intimidated, or summarily dismissed, according to Aon Consulting’s Loyalty Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ensuring a safe and secure work environment is the foundation of trust and zero mistreatment of people. Training is an integral component of imparting personal knowledge to allow for healthy relationships at work.

This article outlines an approach to training that fosters psychological safety by integrating legal and psychological concepts in an interactive format using dramatic elements. This approach, termed the “PsychoLegal Approach,” is applicable to most workplace issues of discrimination and retaliation. In the following article, we focus on the timely topic of sexual harassment in the workplace to illustrate the principles of the PsychoLegal Approach.

Zero tolerance policies that prohibit discrimination and sexual harassment have become compliance issues for the global workplace, making employment practice liability a growing risk for European Companies (see UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2). Consider the following facts:

1. Legal action against British employers jumped by about one third, to 164,525,for the year ending March 31, 2000, compared with the comparable prior year. (Statistics from the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, a UK government funded body.)

2. UK Engineering Employers Federation (“EEF”) reported that employee claims against member companies increased 30 percent in 1999, to 2,770 claims, from 2,137 in 1998. At the same time, the cost of settlement also rose, with settlement costs for discrimination cases increasing more than 20 percent, according t the EEF.

3. The increase in employment legislation, both in the United Kingdom and Ireland, combined with further European Commission initiatives to improve rights and working conditions of employees, is likely to increase awards and to lead to more actions against employers. For example, the Employment Relations Act of 1999 provides unlimited court awards for “whistle-blowers”

4. (those who are dismissed for bringing to light wrongdoing in the workplace), as opposed to the former 12,000 pound limit.

5. A recent survey published by the London-based Institute of Management that represents about 86,000 managers in the United Kingdom found that stress is increasing among UK managers, despite employers growing awareness of the problem. There has been a high succession of high awards to employees based on claims for damages due to work related stress, particularly in the latter half of 1999 and early 2000. These underline the importance of effective stress management and prevention for organizations. (Business Insurance, March 13, 2000, p. 19.)

Both in the United States and the European Union, the strong social content of legislation aimed at elimination of discrimination have heightened the employers’ responsibility to achieve zero tolerance of a hostile workplace. In accordance with the laws, employees have been allowed to sue for punitive damages that go beyond the traditional notion of compensating someone for actual loss. Deterrence from a hostile workplace is an economic reality for employers given that proven inappropriate workplace behaviors have been costly to punish the employer.

In contrast to traditional training methods, the PsychoLegal Approach combines the expertise of a lawyer and a psychologist. The aims are to promote greater levels of organizational awareness about the issues of sexual harassment in the workplace, promote lasting attitude and behavioral changes, and focus on preventative attitudes. It is grounded in the belief that employees benefit most from understanding the legal issues of sexual harassment in the broader context of understanding the behavioral, emotional, and psychological issues that are intertwined in the law.

By focusing on the complexity of sexual harassment workplace issues and creating emotional understanding and empathy in conjunction with a sophisticated understanding of the law, the PsychoLegal Approach provides an effective and innovative approach to training whose principles of learning can be adapted to a variety of workplace issues. Whether there is a need to educate or coach executives, conduct an investigation, or mediate a dispute, empathy and an emotional and social understanding of the psychological factors, coupled with the legal rules and policies, can foster respect and allow for a greater ability to hear another’s perspective.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote in his book of 1881, The Common Law… “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.

“The PsychoLegal Approach invites a discussion of experiences. *The PsychoLegal Approach is a servicemark of Diversity Training-Workplace Solutions, Inc. (www.diversitytraining.com).