Harassment in the Workplace

Today it was McDonald’s, yesterday was Uber. It seems like every day brings new sexual harassment allegations against prominent figures and corporations. Since the #MeToo movement brought the issue of sexual harassment center stage, experts are predicting sexual harassment topics will remain high profile for a while.

Businesses could face potential financial penalties for harassment cases and could cause significant damages to their brand and reputation.   The most recognizable example was the Weinstein company, who filed a bankruptcy in March 2018.

What we learned from the Harvey Weinstein case is employees from assistants to top executives knew sexual harassment was happening and decided to look the other way. The reason employees did not speak up is that the company enforced a code of silence policy. An employee could not criticize the company or the company leaders in a way that could harm its business reputation or personal reputation. Speaking up meant violation of company policy.

Other workplaces may not be as extreme as having a code of silence policy, but maybe there is an implied policy through acts of intimidation or fear of retaliation.

Even though The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity laws prohibit punishing employees for communicating with a supervisor or manager about harassment, many companies fail to communicate their anti-retaliation policy to their employees.

So here are the questions to ask:

  • Is it time to review your harassment policies and procedures?
  • Do your employees understand your harassment policies and procedures?
  • Do your employees feel safe to speak up about their concerns?
  • Do your supervisors and managers know what to do when harassment is brought to their attention?
  • Do your supervisors and managers understand the consequences for failing to address and report harassment?

Although only three states (California, Connecticut, and Maine) require harassment training for supervisors, many other states recommend harassment training for all employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends using an interactive training program that is repeated and reinforced regularly and supported at the highest levels of the organization.

The best way to limit exposure to harassment allegations is to create a culture that fosters a safe and productive work environment.