In the wake of the firing of Matt Lauer from NBC’s morning show, the network has reportedly set up some new rules to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Page Six reported yesterday that NBC’s new rules lean heavily on employees to report any intra-office relationships that supervisors should know about.
A source says, “Romantic relationships at work are not exactly unusual, but now NBC says it is taking a zero-tolerance approach. Staffers have been told that if they find out about any affairs, romances, inappropriate relationships or behavior in the office, they have to report it to human resources, their superior or the company anti-harassment phone line. Staffers are shocked that they are now expected to snitch on their friends.
“Plus, there’s been a series of ridiculous rules issued on other office conduct. One rule relates to hugging. If you wish to hug a colleague, you have to do a quick hug, then an immediate release, and step away to avoid body contact.
“Also there’s strict rules about socializing, including [not] sharing taxis home and [not] taking vegans to steakhouses.”
These rules sound like the kind of thing nuns would enforce at Catholic high school dances, i.e. “Leave room for the Holy Spirit.” It’s silly but I suppose the idea is to have some standard written down so that the company can take action against people who grope their colleagues. Without all the rules, some creep would hire an attorney to argue ‘hey, you never told me I couldn’t press myself against the office secretary.’
The real problem with the rules isn’t their specificity, it’s that they assume knowledge of bad behavior will be acted upon. If only NBC execs had known that Matt Lauer was a pervy creep with a button to lock his door without getting up from his desk. But of course, there is some reason to think they did know. As Page Six previously reported:
“Everybody at NBC knew about Matt Lauer’s sexually inappropriate behavior — and knew not to talk about it,” a current “Today” show staffer said.
“Women did complain about his behavior, and there were a lot of closed-door meetings before it was all brushed under the carpet.”
The problem at NBC News wasn’t that people didn’t know, it’s that people who knew and should have done something didn’t. They didn’t because Lauer was a star with the power to damage almost anyone who represented a threat to him. No one wanted to take a shot at Lauer because there was a good chance you would end up fired and he’d remain untouched. That’s the same problem people at the Weinstein Company had. Everyone knew about Harvey but no one could afford to take him on.
The problem with procedural rules to deal with sexual harassment and abuse is that the rules are most likely to be applied in an unforgiving fashion to people low on the totem pole while they are applied sparingly if at all to the people most likely to see the harassment as a kind of office perk. You’ll know these rules actually mean something when another A-list host at NBC gets written up for violating the hug policy. My guess: It will never happen.