During Matt Lauer’s reign as NBC News’ most powerful man, he allegedly locked female co-workers in his office, summoned them to his hotel rooms, and routinely made offensive comments.
Now NBC, which once thought installing secret buttons to lock office doors was a good idea, has gotten religion about the importance of cracking down on sexual misbehavior in the workplace. With the zealotry of a new convert, the company has issued new rules that attempt to govern every potential interaction between staff members, the New York Post reported, and is requiring employees to notify human resources of any office romances they’re aware of. Employees failing to report potential violations could be fired for covering up for wayward colleagues, the Post said.
The policy comes on top of new, mandatory anti-harassment training, plus a “culture assessment” to determine why employees didn’t feel comfortable raising complaints about Lauer. While several women at NBC told Variety they had notified NBC executives about Lauer’s behavior over the years, NBC News chairman Andy Lack said the first complaint was received just last month.
NBC News didn’t respond to a request for comment. Lauer, who was fired Nov. 29, issued a statement the next day that said, in part, “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
While NBC seems appropriately contrite about allowing Lauer’s predations, the company does run the risk of over-correcting. Turning an office into a network of relationship spies seems like a recipe for breeding paranoia and mistrust, and transforms otherwise hardworking and loyal employees into presumed rule-breakers.
There are also sound reasons why zero-tolerance policies are a bad idea for policing sexual misconduct. As Quartz’s Olivia Goldhill reported, there’s a spectrum of behavior, and some inappropriate conduct is due to ignorance, not aggression. If victims fear those harassers will be fired for conduct that could be eliminated through education, they’re unlikely to report it. Which means the problem festers.
NBC’s reported policies also attempt to set hard-and-fast rules in areas where education and judgment are likely more effective. Hugs, according to the Post, must be quick; the parties are instructed to then immediately step away, as to not prolong physical contact. Coworkers are now prohibited from sharing taxis, and meat eaters can’t take vegan co-workers to steakhouses.
From outward appearances, NBC listened to the complaints of its employees and drew up a list of rules to address every one of them, creating a maze of regulations that will needlessly frustrate and complicate the lives of all workers, not just the scofflaws. Far better to be attuned to the complaints of employees and respond with nuance before there’s a crisis, than to respond with a blunt instrument after one.