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Advice for Managers: What I Learned from the Matt Lauer Revelations
Posted 12.01.17
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Jonathan A. Segal
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I am pleased to share my latest post to Philadelphia Business Journal.

When allegations initially were made against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, I admit I was not surprised. While I was not aware of their reputations, I always found both of them somewhat “creepy.”

When multiple individuals came forward corroborating each other, it became clear that we are dealing with serial harassers. Again, I was not surprised.

This is important because the additional evidence confirmed my emotional reactions to them. I know enough not to make investigatory findings based on an emotional pre-disposition, but everyone who conducts investigations needs to be aware of their own emotional predispositions so that investigations do not end up with “confirmation bias.”

Then, came the termination of Matt Lauer. I was, to put it mildly, shocked.

For many years, I started my mornings with Katie and Matt. I respected and like both of them. I had “welcomed” them into my home.

While Matt Lauer denies some allegations, he has admitted wrongdoing. In his first public statement since being fired from NBC’s “Today” show, Lauer said “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”

I thought Matt was smart and likeable. More importantly, my sense was that he was a decent man.

So, when the allegations against Matt Lauer were released, and more women have since come forward, I thought: “this does not sound like Matt Lauer.” Of course, I don’t know him but his conduct as it has been revealed did not comport with my perception of him.

In workplaces, managers routinely receive complaints about other employees who allegedly have engaged in harassment. How they respond is incredibly important.

I was aware of my emotional reaction to Weinstein, on the one hand, versus Lauer, on the other hand. But what if my emotional reactions were reflected in my verbal responses as a manager.

What if I had said, about Weinstein, “I’m not surprised.” That would have suggested knowledge, even if not the case.

What if I had said, about Lauer, “That does not sound like Matt!” I would have been diminishing the allegations based on how I perceived the alleged wrongdoer.

When we train managers, it is absolutely critical that we provide them with guidance on how to respond “in the moment” to allegations of harassment. If we don’t, they may focus on how they feel and not the woman (or man) before them.

In my view, the appropriate response to a complaint starts with: “Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention. We take them very seriously.”

Yes, it is human to have an emotional reaction based on your view of the individual who allegedly has done wrong. But, it is inappropriate to share that reaction when someone has the courage to step forward, regardless of whether you end up being right or wrong.

The truth is that none of us knows for certain who would–or would not–engage in sexually harassing behavior. That’s why investigations are so important, without assumptions, one way or the other.

I believe that Lauer is sorry. I hope that it is not simply because he got caught.

I thought I knew Matt Lauer. I was wrong.

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About Jonathan A. Segal
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Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .