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Abuse-free workplaces engender productivity, health

We want to believe women have come a long way. With steps forward and a shift in attention or media spotlight, we want to assume all is well, won or protected, but some workplaces are not safe.

For example, despite efforts of churches and faiths in recent decades to establish policies on clergy misconduct, some people in faith and nonprofit workplaces still abuse power. Some think ethics policies and discrimination laws don’t apply to them.

With focus on sexual misconduct by male clergy, it’s easy to miss other subtle or overt abuse. Plus, we really want to assume faith or nonprofit workplaces are safe.

Executives, middle-management, co-workers, subordinates or volunteers—clergy, laity or secular—may act in unethical, discriminatory, hostile, abusive ways. Abuse of power may come from men or women superiors, equals or subordinates.

Harassment and discrimination can surface in hiring, compensation, training, promotions, work conditions and termination. Hostile work cultures range from tolerating subtle putdowns to overt harassment.

A subordinate may resent a professional woman. A woman in a professional job may overlook or want to deny offensive behavior to keep the job. She may not want to believe she is a victim of discrimination, abuse of power or sexual harassment. She may blame herself.

Uncomfortable work environments are not the norm. Most people know that good manners, basic decency, positive motivation, common sense, respectful relationships and democratic input benefit the mission and bottom line.

Because workplace abuse may be hard to identify, we compiled some questions from resources of the Center for Organizational Reform, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, FaithTrust Institute and an attorney who handles such cases, in order to call attention to illegal, inappropriate and unethical activities:

• Is communication with co-workers transparent, open, honest and direct or filtered through certain people? Is miscommunication common?
• Is there a culture of rumor, criticism or control that silences new ideas, conversations and creativity?
• Are some staff or volunteers favorites and others excluded or reported on, fostering fear and distrust?
• Are incompetent employees continued and allowed to hinder those with specialized skills and connections needed to advance the mission? Is jealousy unchecked?
• Is there subtle or overt insubordination, interference with clients, put-downs or misinformation to discredit an employee?
• Does a supervisor/subordinate cover up when he/she doesn’t meet a deadline and blame a co-worker?
• Is scapegoating prevalent?
• Do workers fear that reporting harassment will lead to termination?
• Is there retaliation for reporting abuse —in performance reports, disciplinary action, unreasonable goals, denied promotions, blame, demotions or hostility?
• Are continued employment, promotions or treatment dependent on a sexual relationship with someone in power?
• Is there unwanted attention, talk of sexual activities or inappropriate joking?
• Does abuse increase when an employee is pregnant? Is there advice on family planning? Is a pregnant woman terminated?
• Is a new father discouraged from taking family leave?
• Are people terminated when they use their health insurance?
• Does a glass ceiling prevent advancement of capable women?
• Are there impediments to a woman pursuing her professional career goals?
• Are young women hired, paid less and encouraged to move on before a promotion would bring a raise?
• Does the employer pressure a person to resign, agree not to sue for harassment or discrimination, or require silence?
• Is there pressure to resign to avoid paying unemployment? Does the nonprofit challenge payment of unemployment because each termination costs them more?

It should be obvious that unhealthy relationships and hostile working conditions impede the health, esteem and productivity of an organization, an abuser and an abused person.

To address concerns, it’s important to be self-aware, recognize abuse, record it, report it, seek support, speak out and, if necessary, seek legal recourse.

Congregations, regional and national denominations who are covenantal partners of faith-based organizations need to call their partners to accountability, transparency and ethical workplace practices so they can be effective in their missions.

People of faith need to support work environments that reward performance, protect rights and are free from indignities of gender or any other discrimination.

Editorial Team