ANALYSIS: FOX'S O'REILLY PROBLEM
By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 26, 2004 (UPI)
Fox News Channel personality Bill O'Reilly might settle the sexual-harassment case against him out of court, but a Hollywood corporate consultant on harassment and other workplace issues says the scandal might have been avoided if either O'Reilly or the network had done a better job with the training that corporate employees are supposed to receive.
O'Reilly, 55, landed at the center of the controversy two weeks ago after news reports that he and Fox planned legal action against a 33-year-old producer on his show, "The O'Reilly Factor," accusing her of extortion over accusations that O'Reilly had harassed her repeatedly and spoken to her in explicitly sexual language. After TheSmokingGun.com posted a copy of producer Andrea Mackris' complaint against O'Reilly - replete with frank and vulgar language attributed to him - he vowed to fight the charges. O'Reilly made a public statement on his TV show, then - on the advice of counsel - said he would not discuss the matter publicly any further.
Dave Bowman, founder and chairman of TTG Consultants, told United Press International that often, sexual harassment comes about, in many cases, because many companies are not familiar with federal law - and many human-resources specialists do not know they need to train employees about workplace harassment. "It's a real problem, because the whole issue surrounds perception on both sides," said Bowman. "What one person thinks is a compliment, another person thinks of as harassment."
Bowman - whose clients have included CBS, LucasFilm, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures - said companies covered by the law are required to publish sexual-harassment policies in employee manuals and establish a mechanism for investigating complaints of harassment. He said, however, a significant aspect of the requirement - to train employees frequently on harassment - is a little trickier for managers to negotiate.
"Neither the courts nor the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have said how frequent the training should be," said Bowman. "However, many of the court cases seem to suggest that, to be on the safe side, a company should do that about once a year." Bowman said that, considering the requirement for training, either O'Reilly or Fox might have a serious problem with the Mackris matter.
"I do not know if O'Reilly has been trained," he said. "If Fox did not train O'Reilly, then Fox is going to probably find themselves in some trouble. If they did train O'Reilly, they may be off the hook. In other words, the law is saying they don't expect employers to look over employees' shoulders every five minutes." Bowman said if the company did provide O'Reilly with appropriate sexual-harassment training, he has problems. "He could be sued for a lot of money," said Bowman, "particularly because he's a supervisor and should know better."
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David Bowman is co-author of three books and Chairman of TTG Consultants, a Los Angeles based Human Resources consulting firm. He speaks on a variety of topics involving career and corporate change. He can be reached at TTG Consultants, 4727 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90010; 800.736.8840 or by e-mail at email@example.com. TTG's web site is www.ttgconsultants.com.
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