But sooner or later, someone you like, maybe even care for, will be accused of horrible behavior. Watch your reaction carefully when it happens: do you start excusing the behavior of your colleague, friend or family member if the accusations turn out to be based in truth and he or she did, indeed, do what the accused is claiming?
I bring this up as more and more people are coming forward in the USA now with details of very famous, powerful people, mostly men, harassing and assaulting them, usually work-related colleagues. As I’ve watched, I’ve recalled the warning I’ve made in many, many workshops where I am training those that recruit and manage volunteers – a warning that’s often been met with skepticism and a response along the lines of None of MY volunteers would ever do that! No one I know and care for would ever do that!
My trainings regarding volunteer management often talk about screening potential candidates, policies and procedures, and risk management. I warn people at my workshops about the dangers of going with just their gut when ensuring safety, and about the vital importance of being methodical, consistent, dispassionate and dedicated to WRITTEN safety policies. And I say, point blank, that eventually, someone you really, really like, maybe even really, really care about, is going to be accused of sexual harassment – or worse – and you are going to think, “But I never experienced that and I never saw it and he/she was always SO WONDERFUL.” And that may, indeed, be your absolutely true experience with that person. But that doesn’t negate what one person is saying about another person’s bad behavior. If you’ve taken my advice and are methodical, consistent, dispassionate and dedicated to your WRITTEN safety policies, you are going to get through this fairly and appropriately in the workplace and protect yourself from a lawsuit, even if the accusations turn out to be true. But if the accusations are true, then in addition to dealing with any legal and public relations fallout, you will have to do a lot of soul-searching about your relationship with that person who has harassed or otherwise mistreated someone.
If you are thinking, hey, it hasn’t happened at our organization, so it never will, I’ve got news for you: it’s going to happen. The only way to prevent it from happening at or through your organization to disband your agency.
I’ve never let safety or legal concerns prevent me from creating volunteering opportunities nor from bringing multi-generations of volunteers together. You shouldn’t either. But if you don’t have WRITTEN policies regarding volunteering safety, sexual harassment and workplace respect, or you haven’t discussed those policies with your employees, consultants and volunteers in a while – and I mean DISCUSS, not just send people a link to them online – here’s your opportunity, right now. Google is awash with great advice on these subjects. And I would love to help!
Be strategic, be deliberate. But don’t delay.
Further reading and resources:
- Keeping volunteers safe – & keeping everyone safe with volunteers
- Safety in virtual volunteering
- Safety of volunteers contributes to a shelter closing
- Creating a Speak-up Culture in the Workplace
- For volunteers: how to complain
- Screening applicants by reviewing their online activities
- How Our Minds Mislead Us
- volunteer managers: you are NOT psychic!
- Fearing your own colleagues in the field
- Survey for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Re: Safety
- Evaluation Re: Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction & Response Program