Workplace issues raised by Cuomo accusations all too common, expert says

Charles Molineaux
Updated: March 02, 2021 03:36 PM
Created: March 01, 2021 10:55 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — As accusations of sexual harassment against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo add up, his most recent apology and explanation over one incident are not impressing his accuser.

On Monday, the New York Times reported on a third woman who accuses Cuomo of inappropriate behavior.

On the same day, his second accuser, former staffer Charlotte Bennett sent out a statement accusing the governor of being “predatory” and using his power to avoid justice.

On Sunday the governor essentially acknowledged the substance of Bennett’s accusation saying he may have been insensitive but he was “misinterpreted.”

"'Just joking' or 'Just kidding?’” asked Lisa Frydenlund with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “but by whose standards?"

Cuomo's explanation of his actions is all too familiar to Frydenlund. The SHRM does training to head off sexual harassment.

The latest report Monday of a third woman flagging Cuomo's behavior comes after reports over the weekend that Bennett accused him of inappropriately personal questions and comments to her.

In his Sunday statement, the governor said "Sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes."

"People don't intentionally want to hurt others,” Frydenlund explained. “However, it is about how it is received by that individual who is sitting on, or standing on, the other side of that conversation.”

"When you hear about sexual harassment in the workplace, it's exactly what we're seeing here,” added Assemblywoman Jen Lunsford (D, 135), “where it's subtle. And it's little things and it's easily explained away. And it puts women in a difficult situation.”

In his statement, Cuomo went on to say, "I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.” 

“You want to make sure somebody is fully aware of what they’re walking in the door,” Frydenlund explained, saying that HR professionals try to make it clear that even behavior well established in a workplace can become problematic, especially if workers come in not knowing what they're in for. 

“If you have a long-standing culture that has allowed banter or engagement,” she said. “For folks who are walking in the door, for the first time, it’s informing them as well that ‘this is what and how we want to engage.’ It’s part of the recruiting process.”

The new statement from Bennett and her lawyer said "The Governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior" and calls on other women to come forward too.

Frydenlund says she hopes episodes like this can be teaching opportunities. 

“It shouldn't be 'Oh, that's who they are. They've always been that way,” because that doesn’t ever work out in the long run,” she warned. “It eventually comes up. I've seen it."

Click the links to read the details of the third, second and first accusations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.

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