By: Melanie M. Dunajeski; Drewry Simmons Vornehm, LLP
Sexual Harassment can safely be labeled as one of the top 5 workplace legal issues of 2018: titans of entertainment, politics, and business have fallen, and others are beleaguered by allegations of inappropriate behavior. The #MeToo movement has brought both women and men forward to acknowledge that they have had to deal with this issue in their workplaces and to share their stories. It is out in the open now-and we can safely predict that we will be seeing the fallout for years to come-but there is no reason why that fallout should hurt your business if you take reasonable steps to become and stay a responsible employer. Here are five steps to get you started:
(1) Create a culture of inclusion. That starts at the top and includes a real commitment by company leaders to model and support a workplace that is not undermined by negative behaviors. Respect and civility may not come naturally for every employee, but it is easier to create that expectation when it is embraced at the top.
(2) Bring your policies up to date. We’ve had a basic notion for years about what kind of policy should be in place, but all employers can take note of the recommendations made by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for matters to be included in policies as a result of their multi-year task force: provide clear explanations in your policies of what behavior is prohibited, and include some examples; encourage employees to report all harassing conduct; prohibit retaliation against reporting employees; and notify employees that engaging in harassing behavior is grounds for discipline up to termination.
(3) Establish and protect your Complaint Procedures. Let employees know how and to whom a report of harassment can be made. Give employees multiple means to make a report, and make sure that employees can by-pass one reporting avenue in favor of another-such as if the employee is required to report harassment to a supervisor, and that supervisor is the harasser. A procedure needs to be reinforced-both with the complaining employees and the supervisors or managers charged with carrying that report to the company, conducting the investigation, and following through with any response or follow up. Communicate on an ongoing basis to reinforce the availability of these reporting procedures.
(4) Make Training a Priority. Management needs ongoing training to recognize when complaints are being made and to respond to them promptly and appropriately. Likewise, employees need to be trained that it is their responsibility to report harassment.
(5) Use Prompt and Appropriate Discipline in Response to Violations. If you find that an employee has engaged in harassing behavior prohibited by your policies, you must take action. The consequences will vary based on the nature and severity of the activity and may range from a written reprimand to suspension or even termination. Every violator must be held accountable whether that person sweeps the floors or signs the checks.
These best practices will help put your business on a strong footing going forward, and to establish you as a responsible and responsive employer. Need help putting your plan into place? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org