Sexual Harassment Affects Employers, Large and Small
Major sports figures, entertainment industry icons, corporate CEOs, and politicians are all affected by the recent wave of sexual harassment claims. While these high profile cases are just that, do not be fooled into thinking this issue won’t move downstream and affect middle market companies, like yours. It’s better to be proactive and engage your employees in an honest discussion than face a lawsuit.
According to a 12/19/17 article in the Wall Street Journal, the Office of Compliance released information recently showing it has paid victims more than $17 million since its creation in the 1990s, using an account in an office in the Treasury Department…the revelation that members were using the fund to pay for sexual-harassment claims caused an outcry and sparked multiple proposals to ban the practice.
Twenty to thirty years ago, sexual advances and other inappropriate behaviors in the workplace (consensual or not) were de rigueur. Times have changed, and today any form of disrespect, intimidation, or assault is considered harassment. Regardless of your personal experiences and opinions, inappropriate behavior of any kind is a reflection on the company, its shareholders, and customers, and thus essential to the health and prosperity of the organization. For those with their heads in the sand, look no further than the punishment being carried out on the front pages of newspapers throughout America—immediate dismissal and reputation ruin!
No wonder business leaders are in a state of extreme anxiety—confused about where to draw the line between collegial friendliness and potentially harmful behavior.
What can you do as a leader of a middle market or privately owned entity to address this topic?
- First, become educated. Understand the laws and legal implications regarding harassment situations that have occurred in the past and may occur in the future. We’re in the midst of rapidly changing social norms, so take a hard look and never assume something in the past was harmless.
- Next, be proactive. Reexamine how you and others in your organization are engaging with colleagues and staff. Then develop an outlet to talk with your people—directly, via human resources, and/or through an independent third party. Be sensitive to the boss/subordinate hierarchy and the potential impact on someone’s career. Let it be known that your company’s values include treating everyone fairly and mutual respect.
- And finally, review your harassment policy and create a plan in the event someone in your company requires an investigation. Here’s where a third party is essential, because anyone in your company can be considered too close to the situation to have an unbiased opinion.
The downside is that the public conversation, while necessary to raise awareness, can affect the day-to-day professional interactions between men and women in a negative way. The fallout—often overcorrection—is unfortunate, but unavoidable, to a great extent. Companies need to exercise good judgment when revisiting their policies to ensure that employees understand that they will be treated fairly.
HCC Partners can help you and your organization in a number of ways:
- We can develop a company-wide policy. It’s best to get something in writing that the company is behind and can support.
- We can both design and deliver training. Since definitions, interpretations, and society norms are changing, so is training and nothing can get the point across better than believable scenarios. Training also presents an opportunity for open and honest discussion—as well as ways to address inappropriate behaviors, without escalation.
- In the event of a harassment claim, we can perform the investigation as an unbiased third party.