By GRACE GAGNON
Some 105 public figures have been accused of sexual misconduct this year following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, according to Time magazine.
Workplace sexual harassment seems to be endemic but the state of Connecticut and Bristol have certain protocol to prevent and protect against sexual misconduct in the workplace.
“It is our right under Connecticut law to advocate for ourselves if we feel we are being harassed,” Christine Palm, communications director at the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, Children and Seniors, said.
Sexual harassment, which is any pervasive or unwanted sexual behavior, is illegal and prohibited by the Connecticut Discrimination Employment Practices Act.
Bristol’s city employees are trained in accordance with the state laws, according to Diane Ferguson, personnel director at Bristol City Hall.
Ferguson said sexual harassment complaints are handled by the Personnel Department and they have policies to protect against retribution, which is also illegal.
Additionally, Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is making strides to hold elected officials equally accountable for workplace harassment.
Zoppo-Sassu said she wants to change Bristol’s charter because right now it is silent on what to do in situations that involve elected officials and harassment.
Changing the charter is a difficult process because it’s a governing document but Zoppo-Sassu said she wants elected officials acknowledged as part of the employee group. This means if an elected official is accused of harassment, he or she is held to the same standard of punishment as any other employee.
“Whether at a national or local level, every employee deserves a safe workplace so it’s our obligation to provide that,” Ferguson said.
Palm said corporations with 50 or more employees are required to give sexual harassment training prevention to managers.
The law states that sexual harassment trainings must be done within six months of hiring or promoting someone to a supervisory or managerial position.
“There are a whole bunch of prohibited behaviors. What is unfortunate is people think they can’t invite someone on a date or give someone a compliment. If you ask someone on a date and he or she says no, then you shouldn’t keep asking because then it is harassment,” Palm said.
Palm said many victims of workplace sexual harassment don’t come forward for multiple reasons. People fear retribution, fear ruined reputation, and fear not being believed.
Palm said it’s recommended to hold update trainings every few years and to also train all employees in the company, regardless of position.
“It’s a power dynamic. It’s not about sex or flirting. It’s an abuse of power. Usually, harassment happens by powerful people,” Palm said.
But if an employee is harassed, he or she is encouraged to go to their supervisor. If the supervisor is the one doing the harassing then the victim should go directly to human resources.
Although the stakes are perceived lower at a local level, sexual harassment in the workplace can lead to tremendous fallout.