On Monday, Dictionary.com named “complicit” its word of the year for 2017. Certainly, most of us have encountered the word more frequently over the past few months: Google Trends shows that search queries related to the term spiked around March and April, and continue to grow.
But how many of us know what “complicit” really means? Dictionary.com defines it as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others.” But as Above the Law points out, the word has a discrete legal meaning as well. According to the U.S. Legal Dictionary: “Complicity in criminal law refers to when someone is legally accountable, or liable for a criminal offense, based upon the behavior of another.”
When you allow a telemarketing vendor to call customers without obtaining those customers’ consent first, you may be complicit in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act violation. When you tell your salespeople to remove Buyers Guides from the windows of used vehicles, you may be complicit in a violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule. And when, through your words and actions (or your inactions), you create an organizational culture that encourages or turns a blind eye towards sexual harassment, you may be complicit in a Title VII violation.
Remember: Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. Moreover, if it involves force, unwanted touching, intimidation, threats, or coercion, it may be a crime.
Harassment is not a normal or unavoidable occurrence in the workplace. It’s not part of the cost of doing business. And it’s not limited to Hollywood or Silicon Valley. In fact, certain forms of harassment are more prevalent in the automotive industry than they are in tech:
The auto statistics above come from Automotive News’ Project XX survey. We compared them with data collected by Elephant in the Valley. Both surveys collected anonymous responses from hundreds of women about the harassment they’ve experienced at work, and both illustrate the enormity and severity of the problem.
As news emerges daily about powerful people (such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, George H.W. Bush, and Mark Halperin—the list goes on) allegedly harassing and assaulting people they’ve worked with, we’ve all been reckoning with our own roles in abuse and discrimination. Most owners, general managers, and dealership employees know, on some level, that sexual misconduct is hurting their business. Many in the industry are taking steps to address the issue. But until the statistics change—until we all treat harassment the same way we treat other forms of discrimination and wrongdoing—we’re complicit.
Ending sexual harassment is not only about setting the right example, speaking out, or doing the right thing. It’s about meeting your legal obligations to your employees and customers. Make 2018 the year your dealership stops being complicit, and becomes more compliant instead.