#SHRM19 is just around the corner, and one of the speakers I always make time to see is Jonathan Segal. This isn’t just because he is a genuinely delightful human being who also is a champion for animal rights. It’s also due to his exemplary knowledge and wisdom in the field of gender bias and sexual harassment and his ability to clarify complex issues for an HR audience.

I spoke to Jonathan recently to hear more about his session Sexual Harassment Case Studies.

Tell me more about why you wanted to speak about sexual harassment case studies?

We all know now that harassing conduct is both severe and pervasive. No industry is immune. Responsible employers have done even more to prevent and remedy harassing conduct since the “great awakening” in 2017. This includes strengthening policies, complaint procedures, training, etc.

Now, however, I fear that HR may have some #metoo fatigue. After all, it has been the topic de jure for more than a year. While #metoo is not the only issue for HR, it must remain top of mind. This means focusing not only on compliance but also on culture.

This program will provide guidance to HR to assist other leaders navigate the gray, receive complaints, respond to potentially harassing behavior, avoid retaliatory conduct, etc.

What motivated you to get started in law?

I grew up in a family where social justice was very important. Dr. King remains my hero. I became interested in how law could increase equality.

When I went to law school, I became particularly interested in employment law. Originally, I had considered being a plaintiffs’ lawyer. But, for many reasons, I decided I wanted to try to make a difference by working within the system, that is, for employers. A recovering litigator, I focus entirely on maximizing compliance and managing risk with an eye toward culture. I love what I do. I am quite fortunate.

What has been your most valuable lesson professionally so far?

There is no such thing as risk avoidance. In HR, it’s all about managing risk.

Avoid risk by hiring a questionable applicant? You may have a riskier termination if things do not work out. Avoid risk by not terminating an employee who should be separated? You may be creating a bad “comparator” when you terminate someone else for same or similar reasons. Plus, what damage can the employee cause while remaining employed?

Somethings are legally mandated or prohibited. But where there is legal risk rather than illegality, we must get comfortable with the gray. Afterall, sometimes the greatest risk of all is to take no risk at all.

What is your favorite part of attending SHRM?

I love the short and not-so-short conversations with HR professionals, scheduled or impromptu. I like listening to what issues HR people face day to day. I think I am a better business partner as a result.

But it goes beyond the professional. Annual is a great opportunity to meet up with people I don’t see often live but really like. It is also an opportunity to meet people I “know” from social media and get to know them the old fashion way.

What do you think attendees will be most interested in in your session?

I suspect people will be interested in how to respond “in the moment” to harassing and other unacceptable conduct, even if no complaint. This is so important and so much room for error.

I anticipate there may be questions on navigating the gray. I never expected that a large part of my counseling practice would be the “when and how” of hugs and compliments.

What sessions are you most excited about attending yourself?

So many great sessions but here are but 5 (in alpha order):

1. Steve Brown, HR Rising! From Ownership to Leadership

2. Sol Adrianna Echeverría, Doing Business Globally with Multicultural Teams: Strategies to Manage Integration

3. David Edelman, The Emotional Connection Between Your Brand and Employees

4. Jim Reidy, When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: Legal Issues and Hiring Strategies in Era of Legalized Marijuana

5. Allison West, He Said, She Said- Now What? Tips for Effectively Assessing Credibility

What do you do when you’re not at work?

My passion outside of work is animal rescue. I have been a hands-on volunteer virtually every week for more than a dozen years. Thank you Montgomery County SPCA. In the interest of full disclosure, I am now a Board member, too.

No feeling is better than getting a shelter cat or dog adopted. I have a soft spot for the older animals, so I push a bit harder for them and, by a bit, I mean a lot. We cannot save every animal. But we save a universe with every animal we save.

To quote Anatole France: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” In addition to the shelter animals, Scotty, Finny and Larry awaken my soul every day.

What’s the most important lesson you want attendees to your session to walk away with?

That the problem of harassment remains, and that HR plays a critical role in ensuring that our workplaces are respectful, safe and productive.

We can make a difference. We must! I hope to support HR by sharing some practical tools to make this happen.

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