Human Resources News & Insights

Why the ‘Pence Rule’ is exactly how you shouldn’t go about preventing sexual harassment

With new high profile sexual harassment allegations coming out on a daily basis, a lot of companies are considering policy changes and putting new protocols into place. One new rule not to establish? The Pence Rule.

The Pence Rule is referring to a principle created by Baptist Minister Billy Graham — that a man should not eat, travel, or meet alone with any woman who is not his wife — and is now touted by Vice President Mike Pence. He revealed that he follows his own version of the rule, and does not dine or work late with women alone. He also will not attend events that serve alcohol without his wife.

This practice may seem like a quick fix to the pervasive issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. After all, harassment can’t occur if men and women are never alone together, right? But Tom Spiggle, a lawyer who specializes in pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment cases, breaks down why this rule could do more harm than good, and get you into some real legal trouble.

Discriminatory by definition

The rule, by definition, treats women and men differently in the workplace, Spiggle says. Male employees would be allowed to sit down in private with the male boss, but female employees could not. Important conversations can occur in these one-on-one meetings that women would never get to be a part of. Female employees are effectively shut out of any opportunities to really talk with the decision-makers.

The Pence Rule in court

Spiggle points out that separating men and women isn’t even guaranteed to stop harassment, since it can occur online and through phone calls. And while things such as sexual harassment training can protect your company in court, the Pence Rule would offer no such protection. In fact, Spiggle says it’s more likely to backfire and be used against you in court.

Following the Pence Rule can show the court a culture of discrimination. Spiggle gives the example of a woman suing her company because a less qualified male employee received a promotion over her, a more qualified female employee. Whatever the reasons for this were, when the court sees that the company also doesn’t allow a man and a woman to interact alone, a discriminatory pattern starts to emerge. Shutting women out of opportunities to build professional relationships with the boss suggests a workplace environment that gives male employees preference over females, Spiggle says.

The fix

Instead of something as drastic and legally dangerous as the Pence rule, Spiggle offers a few common sense guidelines all companies should put into place:

  • Don’t harass colleagues
  • Don’t comment on their appearance
  • Don’t ask about their romantic lives
  • Don’t tell crude jokes, and
  • Do treat everyone with professional respect.


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  1. According to the lawyers don’t be human. What is needed is a stop to the silly notion of guilt by accusation and women complaining about nothing. What we have is complaints that he looked at me, he liked what he saw and said so, he put his hand on my back and guided me ahead of him, He put his hand on my shoulder to get my attention, etc. All normal human actions being turned into harassment by crazy women, women looking for a cash payout, or revenge. An end needs to be put to it.

  2. Samantha Anderson says:

    I understand that we all have a different definition of “harassment”, but when a compliment becomes, he harassed me..that is to far. I think that we as a society have become soft and are looking for an issue where there isn’t one. I work around men and if one tells me I look nice, I say “thank you” and move on, if he asks me for my number then I tell him no. If he keeps asking then I take it further, but only after I handle it. These little things are getting out of hand, we need to take a step back and actually look at what just happened, did he try to kiss me?, or was it just a compliment from a co-worker and nothing more.

  3. Peta Johnson says:

    The best rule is a ban on ALL romantic relationships in the workplace and immediate dismissal for flirting or proposing a date or something that could be construed as a date AND immediate dismissal for not reporting any of the above within one business day, including any employee in whose presence any of the above occurred. There should also be an open plan office for most folks.

  4. SkypeColorado says:

    Just do not hire any woman. End of problem

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