As allegations of sexual harassment and abuse come pouring out of Hollywood, as well as sports, journalism and even the culinary world, it is only natural to assume that employees will have a heightened sense of awareness about appropriate workplace behavior. The popularity of the social media hashtag #MeToo demonstrates the pervasiveness of the problem, but what does all of this mean for employers?
Here are some practical, concrete steps your company can take to empower employees and minimize the likelihood of sexually inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
Revisit Your Policy Manual. Do you have an anti-harassment/discrimination policy? When was it last updated? While the laws surrounding harassment and discrimination have not substantially changed over the last few years, our culture and language around such issues has. Better practice is to have a qualified attorney or HR professional review and revise your policies every couple of years to stay current.
Cultivate a Culture of Respect. OK, this is easier said than done. Leadership should let employees know that disrespectful conduct of any kind is not tolerated in your workplace. But more than that, management should follow through using an appropriate progressive discipline policy when employees (especially managers) run afoul.
Train, train, train. Every workplace could benefit from a reminder about respectful and effective communications in the workplace. This extends far beyond “sexual harassment training” of yore, with cheesy, awkward videos of conduct that most everyone realizes is not OK.
Create Avenues to Report without Fear of Retaliation. Not every company can afford to pay for an independent HR reporting hotline. Small- and mid-sized businesses must empower (and did we mention train?) their managers to receive reports of harassment or discrimination from their employees; to listen and document appropriately; to follow proper procedures; and – most importantly, not to retaliate against an employee making a complaint.
Investigate Every Complaint. While the scope of investigation will depend on the particular allegations, employers should take every complaint seriously. To the extent possible, investigations should be respectful and confidential. In cases of serious allegations, such as a sexual assault, it is best to hire an investigator from outside the company who can perform an independent assessment.
Do you have questions or need assistance with any of these tasks? Give us a call.