When it comes to sexual harassment in the emergency services, Scott Moore has a full perspective. He’s been in EMS for more than a quarter century and still runs calls as an EMT. He’s been an executive with several services. And now he’s an attorney whose firm, Massachusetts-based EMS Resource Advisors, specializes in HR, employment, and labor law representation and consulting.
He also has a new video-based sexual harassment training program, Finding the Line, developed specifically for the EMS workplace. He spoke with EMS World about the qualities of good training and unique aspects of EMS relationships.
EMS World: Over your time in the EMS industry, as a provider and an attorney, how has the problem of sexual harassment evolved? Is there less of it today? Does it take different forms?
Moore: This is a great question. The EEOC Select Task Force on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace found in 2016 that nearly 90% of employers in this country provide sexual harassment training, yet there has been no significant change in the incidence of sexual harassment in today’s workplace. In my 29 years of experience as an EMT and nearly 15 years as an employment attorney, I have seen no significant change in the incidence of sexual harassment in the EMS workplace.
I am notified nearly every day from different governmental enforcement agencies about actions to address sexual harassment in U.S. workplaces. While there still exists behavior everyone would suggest is objectively offensive, I have seen an evolution of harassment claims. I believe we’ve been evolving into a more accountable workplace and a more educated employee who understands they do not have to tolerate inappropriate and illegal behavior.
I find many complaints of harassment begin with inappropriate behavior that is more subtle. Often this subtle behavior is left unchecked and eventually evolves and escalates until it changes the work environment. It is an erosion over time of a work environment that is civil and inclusive.
Why have we failed, by and large, to stop this problem? Where have departments’ traditional training and efforts to address it fallen short?
There are numerous things a company can do to address and prevent sexual and other forms of harassment in the workplace. The efforts must start at the top and be carried consistently throughout the organization. It needs to be consistent in messaging, education, and actions.
Many organizations try to address harassment by having employees sit and watch a video on annual basis. They are required to watch the video so the organization can say that it provides training regarding harassment. Essentially the effort is geared toward avoiding liability rather than changing behavior and environment.
Often the educational video is not geared specifically for or relatable to the average EMS work environment. Many videos are set in office settings and involve scenarios so objectively offensive that your average person already recognizes them as such. I don’t believe any employee who would behave in the manner portrayed in that kind of video would be dissuaded because they watched the video. I believe those individuals already know their behavior is illegal.
Very few of the videos address the nuances of an EMS work environment. Very few occupational environments have coworkers sharing bunk rooms, working long hours relatively unsupervised, and being placed in emotionally intense emergency situations. The EMS work environment can be intense and challenging. An educational program seeking to deliver a message to EMS must do so in a language and context an EMS provider will understand.
What are some of the key elements you tried to incorporate into the video and integrate into your training?
I wanted to create a video series that fostered a more civil and inclusive work environment. I refused to use acted-out scenarios, as they tend to be cheesy, and the viewer disengages. The goal was to create a video where the “actors” were real EMS providers working actively in the field and the legal principles were woven into their individual stories. I think EMS folks can relate better to one of their own who can share stories like they’ve likely encountered or witnessed. This video goes beyond simple legal definitions and demonstrates how harassment presents in many different ways with interactions with coworkers, other public safety and healthcare workers, and patients.
This is the first in a series of videos geared specifically to an EMS workplace. We intend to ensure a percentage of every video program is updated and replaced every year. We are in postproduction on several videos now to address race, religion, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and age. In addition, we are in postproduction with additional educational video programs to serve as companion programs for EMS supervisors and managers. Many states have minimum educational requirements for employees but require additional education for anyone in a supervisory role.
The video emphasizes that context matters—for example, close longtime partners may be comfortable with a level of give-and-take a new partner wouldn’t. Should departments allow for that, as opposed to having strictly zero tolerance? How do you set those parameters?
Zero-tolerance policies often suppress reporting. EMS leaders need to create a workplace environment where harassment and its related behaviors simply do not have the oxygen to survive. I called the program Finding the Line because this program goes beyond the objectively offensive behavior addressed in most videos. Most videos avoid the more subtle behavior because it’s incredibly challenging. My feeling with this video was that any harassment education program has an obligation to address the more challenging aspects of harassment. Until we do, the outcomes will not change.
The basis of Finding the Line is to recognize that, absent a longstanding relationship with another individual, you should default to keeping all interactions objectively civil and respectful. Additionally, one of the biggest criticisms I hear from employees when addressing harassment in the workplace is “What, we can’t have fun at work anymore?” It is important to recognize that longstanding relationships will change interactions between individuals. Sometimes it can change with the same two individuals on different days. The underlying message is to be professional, kind, and respectful to all people you encounter in the course of your workday.
What are some other best practices for sexual harassment training and policy?
Leadership must establish a culture where it is abundantly clear what the expectations are for how our employees behave. Organizations must establish a clearly worded antiharassment policy, clearly and regularly communicate that policy, and provide education about the many faces of harassment.
Additionally, there needs to be an ongoing dialogue and education between leaders and employees. The actions of all leaders need to be consistent with the organizational commitment to provide employees with a civil and inclusive work environment. Leaders must be present in any educational program. When I say present, I mean not working on their laptop or handheld device during the program. Organizations that tolerate inappropriate behavior will have more of it.
Education needs to be more than simply “set it and forget it.” If the organization is going to use a video-based educational program as part of their harassment-prevention efforts, make sure it’s not the only part of their effort and that the video program changes every year.