Proper Behavior Training at air transportation-related companies is coming in light of increased instances of harassment. Robert W. Moorman considers this area of training.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is the hot-button social issue facing us currently. Not a week goes by, it seems, when someone, men typically, are exposed for sexual assault, harassment or just bad behavior toward co-workers and others.

The Hollywood entertainment community reminds us often of this issue. And yet, their industry was for years - and continues to be apparently - one of the worst offenders, with some actually pleading ignorance that this kind of behavior exists in their industry.

Flight attendants have for years complained about rude and grabby passengers, or being assaulted by them. Passenger-on-passenger assaults too have been reported. In a recent survey by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), one out of five responding flight attendants report of a passenger-on-passenger sexual assault while working a flight.

“I don’t really know many flight attendants, who haven’t dealt with harassment of some sort, sexual or other nature,” said Heather Healy, director of Employee Assistance Programs, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

Healy gave a few reasons why flight attendants particularly are victims of sexual harassment. The “Coffee, Tea or Me” mischaracterization of flight attendants, while very dated, seems to continue is some quarters, she said. In addition, flight attendants are dealing with the flying public, who are not in the best environment “for optimal behavior: a small tube at 30,000 feet where no one can leave. And then you add alcohol on top of that.”

Because flight attendants travel constantly, they also are at a higher risk of being harassed or attacked on the road.

Reports of passenger-on-passenger harassment has spiked recently. One woman passenger complained about being groped by an intoxicated male passenger on a Dec. 2017 United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey to Buffalo, New York. A reported incident of sexual harassment occurred in late November 2017 when a Silicon Valley executive was harassed by a male passenger onboard an Alaska Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Mazatlán, Mexico.

To their credit, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden expressed in strong language zero tolerance for sexual harassment at their respective airlines.

In his letter to employees, Munoz said, “…we’ve finally begun to have an honest and long overdue national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace. That we are only now beginning to come to terms with the full magnitude of this problem - in this day and age - is galling and should incite us to raise our voice on behalf of our shared values.”

But is the condemnation of sexual harassment enough to change what appears to be a systemic, ongoing problem in the workplace?

Move to the Classroom

Some in the training community believe that the time is right to move the issue from the stage to the classroom. To succeed, the training must be a separate program with teeth and have the unwavering support of companies’ board of directors, top management and staff, said trainers.

Most in the air transportation community recognize a need for proper etiquette training in the workplace. And some cover the issue during orientation.

Every new Southwest Airlines employee attends a full-day orientation dubbed FLY Class (Freedom, LUV, and You.) “Among the topics covered in class is harassment in any form,” said Southwest.

UPS Airlines offered the following: “Anti-harassment and proper business etiquette are covered during required orientation for new management personnel. UPS’s anti-harassment policy is explained to all employees when they are hired, and they have to acknowledge their understanding of it. In addition, the policy is currently being re-emphasized to employees throughout the company.”

Airlines for America (A4A), the airlines principal lobbyist based in Washington D.C. knows how serious the issue of harassment is. “…Our members take these matters seriously and do not tolerate harassment in any form,” said Alison McAfee, spokesperson for the Airlines for American, the principal lobbyist for US airlines primarily.

Some carriers say they’re on the cusp of formulating anti-harassment training programs. “We recognize harassment exists and we are acting to support our team members, including providing enhanced training,” said American Airlines (AA) spokesman Matt Miller. AA sources admit that the harassment program is in its infancy and will take time to initiate the program company wide.

Other US airlines either declined to be interviewed on harassment training or did not respond to interview requests.

CAT could not determine the extent of in-house, standalone harassment training programs at several air transportation related companies. Having an anti-harassment policy and taking time during employee orientation to discuss harassment in in the workplace is a good first step, said trainers. So too is disseminating the zero tolerance policy toward harassment to the news media.

Trainers View

Kate Zabriskie is founder of Business Training Works Inc. (BTW), which provides workplace etiquette training for numerous US companies. Her Maryland-based company offers two different types of harassment prevention training programs. One is a general program geared toward most employees, while the other more advanced course is aimed toward managers. In the latter, managers learn how a lack of this kind of training can leave an organization vulnerable.

The increase in reporting of alleged sexual harassment cases involving leading figures in the entertainment and news world has spiked business. “We’re getting more calls for this kind of training and the companies approach the issue in two different ways,” said Zabriskie. Some companies “want to check the box” and are looking for inexpensive, compliance-type training. Others will spend the money and BTW provides a comprehensive course on proper etiquette training, which includes a module on harassment.

The program, designed for new hires or those returning to the workforce, covers workplace expectations and acceptable behavior. The course is well suited for organizations “that have promoted from within and are challenged by inappropriate employee behavior.”

Zabriskie finds that some employees during training are unaware that their behavior is considered harassment. “There are others, who are aware, but don’t think what they are doing is bad,” she added.

BTW offers clients common-sense based recommendations. When staffing a team, say for a particularly project, it is not a good idea to pick one gender. A homogenous group would be less sensitive to the signs of harassment, she said.

Steering clear of alcohol-fueled activities at work too is recommended. This subject is of particular interest because numerous companies have developed lounges and sleeping pods, with some even serving alcohol to provide a more relaxed, progressive atmosphere. The irony is not lost on Zabriskie.

“Don’t be surprised if you established the love shack at your start-up and there are problems,” said Zabriskie.

Upper management needs to ask themselves the following questions before initiating change in the workplace: “Is this a decision you really want to make?” she asked. “What kind of culture, what kind of workplace do you want to establish? “

Changing employee beliefs on what constitutes proper behavior in the workplace can be a lengthy process. Zabriskie said the role of her company is to make sure employees have the information and employers offer the appropriate training.

BTW provided customer service work for American Airlines and interview skills training at Air France. But it has yet to provide proper etiquette training with a segment on harassment at these and other airlines.

Training is Critical

There are obvious moral and ethical reasons for combating harassment in the workplace. But there are also potential legal vulnerabilities for companies, which aren’t dealing seriously with this aberrant behavior.

“I think training is absolutely critical,” said Shon Ramey, General Counsel for NAVEX Global, an ethics and compliance software company. “But if you are not driving a culture that has no tolerance for sexual harassment, training alone will not get the desired result.”

Companies need to examine what is their exposure toward harassment from an ethical, legal and regulatory framework, he said.

Setting up an ethics compliance hotline is advisable. Ramey said upper management need answers to the following questions before resolution can be achieved: Is the problem system wide or at a particular station or division? Do the employees, who report of harassment, feel that they have sufficient support by management? Are the company’s policies against harassment effective or do they need to be revised? Is there a mechanism in place to deal with the problem? And what training is needed to combat harassment in the workplace?

East Hampton, Mass.-based BoldNewDirections, which runs The Sexual Harassment Training Institute, offers a half-day, full-day and individual coaching programs at the workplace that help attendees to: design a code of conduct, identify discrimination and harassment, understand the legal consequences, comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, investigate accusations, use corrective coaching to change behavior and process termination procedure when needed. The company also covers other areas.

“We specialize in coaching individuals, executives particularly, who are often the problem,” said Jim Hornickel, CEO and principal program designer.

Hornickel said Boeing, Delta Air Lines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Pratt & Whitney are among its long list of customers.

San Antonio-based Inspired eLearning offers online and through portable devices workplace and sexual harassment training for employees and supervisors as a way to reduce company liability for harassment claims. The company notes online: “…the US Supreme Court has stated that for a company to reduce its liability for harassment claims, it must train employees and supervisors, require employees to report incidents of harassment, thoroughly investigate all reports and take corrective action when necessary…”

Every newly hired employee of the Federal Aviation Administration must take an online anti-harassment course, which is part of an overall anti-discrimination program. Genesis for the training dates back to the No Fear Act of 2002, and initially to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harassment training is also covered during recurrent training.

“I felt that the FAA was very sensitive to this kind of training, that harassment is not OK,” said one FAA staffer, a General Schedule (GS-15) level employee who has taken the course.

To crack down on the incidents of harassment inflight, air carriers have procedures in place for flight crews to notify air traffic controllers to have law enforcement meet the aircraft when it lands and conduct an investigation of the incident if necessary, stated the FAA.

DOT said it forwards complaints of in-flight sexual assault or harassment to the airline, directing carriers to respond directly to the consumer. “Because the nature of the complaint involves potentially criminal conduct, we also encourage consumers to contact an FBI field office to investigate the incident. The Department does not conduct criminal investigations,” stated DOT.

Most airlines recognize the ever-present problem of harassment in the workplace, but are only now beginning to develop training programs. A lingering concern of trainers is that businesses will go light on employee training or in-depth coaching of executives. One thing is certain. Recognition isn’t enough. Talk is cheap. The only way to affect real change is to convert the culture that seems to tolerate harassment through indifference. And one way to help change the culture is through in-depth and persistent training. We shall see.

Help from Within

Airlines and employee groups are adding training programs to combat a variety of challenges in the workplace, including racism, depression and substance abuse.

In an extraordinary move in December 2017, American Airlines, with the endorsement of several civil rights groups, promised to implement company-wide implicit bias training. The training will soon begin with American’s leadership team and include each of its 120,000 team members.

In addition, American will hire an independent firm to conduct a diversity and inclusion gap analysis. The study will examine hiring, promotion, training, customer and team member experiences and make recommendations where gaps exist.

“This is a good start to changing internal processes that allow for discrimination, racism and implicit bias to continue to exist within companies,” said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson. “We think that the steps taken by American Airlines, if fully implemented, will not only change the way they engage their customers and employees but will serve as a model for other companies.”

The Association of Flight Attendants offers a peer-based program to help its members deal with depression, substance abuse, assault, debt and other problems.

Heather Healy, director of Employee Assistance Program for AFA, and a licensed clinical social worker, trains flight attendants for the peer-based program to provide initial intake assessment and steer program participants toward professional health care or other providers.

At present, the program has 250 plus peers in 70 locations in five countries. The program’s utilization rate, the number of people that access the service, is around 17% of the 50,000 flight attendants represented by AFA.

In another area, AFA is working with Alaska Airlines to develop best practices for cabin crew and other employees on handling passenger-on-cabin crew and passenger-on-passenger harassment onboard airliners. Robert W. Moorman

Published in CAT issue 2/2018