Avoiding Harassment at Work: Business Travel

When it came to light that Harvey Weinstein had lured unsuspecting women to hotel room meetings, then solicited and harassed them, some commentators started recommending the “Mike Pence Rule” for business travel – not meeting alone with a member of the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse.

This is logistically difficult to implement, but completely separating genders for business travel could also constitute discrimination on the basis of sex. Federal law prohibits employers from treating employees differently because of gender in any aspect of employment, including job assignments. Implementing the Mike Pence Rule, as it applies to travel, effectively cordons off female employees from certain trips, meetings and assignments simply because of their gender. Beyond raising legal risks for employers, this stifles women’s career advancement – many client interactions and significant projects happen on business trips.

To be sure, business travel is not without its risks. Alcohol + hotel rooms + late networking nights can equal a veritable cocktail (pun intended) for a precarious situation. If completely separating men and women isn’t the solution, what should conscientious managers do to avoid even the appearance of impropriety?

  • Don’t cross the threshold. While complete segregation isn’t achievable (or advisable), it’s wise to avoid spending time in any co-worker’s hotel room, regardless of gender. Instead, take advantage of common hotel amenities like conference rooms, business centers, club rooms and lobby areas for work meetings.
  • Imbibe in moderation. From the airplane beverage cart to the open bar at a conference reception, booze is often a part of travel – sometimes in abundance. As in all professional settings, if you do drink, do so responsibly.
  • Work hard, but don’t play too hard. Some business trips take you to far-flung and lively locations. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of staying out for “just one more” into the early morning hours. Late nights out with clients and coworkers, in addition to providing fertile ground for inappropriate behavior, may also impede your ability to work the next day. Don’t be afraid to turn in early.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open. Watch out for your team. Use your emotional intelligence to monitor who is traveling together; trust your gut if you sense a trip involves an obvious power imbalance or an uncertain dynamic. If adding a third member to a travel team mitigates potential discomfort, it can be well worth the expense.
  • Set the standard. Make sure employees know there’s no “code of the road” – they may be out of the office, but they are still at work, and any inappropriate behavior will be investigated and addressed.

Business travel provides ample one-on-one time; it’s fertile ground for professional relationship-building. By following a few common-sense guidelines, you can use travel to further business goals and positively contribute to your company culture.

Want advice about instituting work travel policies? Contact People People – we’ll give you advice on this topic specific to your workplace. And, if your workplace needs a little training, we’d be happy to assist.

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