Sexual Harassment is “Trending”

Q: With allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and now Kevin Spacey, dominating the news, I am concerned that employees may come forward with their own stories. Is this a trend, and what should we be doing?

A: We have all seen the news stories. If we thought sexual harassment was something that was no longer an issue, we were sadly mistaken. Now that more and more people are coming forward, it is reasonable to expect that your employees may be more willing to make complaints.

As my colleague James McDonough said in a recent video, we have many ways that we can help you with this problem, before, during, and after any incident of illegal harassment. There are three steps any employer can take to make sure this doesn’t happen in their environment.

The first step is putting a policy in your handbook, and if you have one already, making sure it includes critical elements. As a member, you have access to sample policies in our employment handbook planning guide in the members-only portion of our website, and this is just one policy you can use.

The second step is training. It’s important to train both employees and supervisors on sexual harassment, because training employees on your policy can help to insulate you from liability.

The third step is creating a culture that resists harassment. In this way you can reduce the three reasons employees do not speak up, according to a study done by Harvard:

1. Fear of retaliation. When sexual harassment is not handled properly it can result in retaliation or hostility. Employees report that the fear of losing their job is often what prevents them from speaking up. Counteract this by letting employees know about the policy and conducting annual training. So that you can have the training you need for your staff, we offer classes for managers and supervisors and employees. We also provide webinar training for California, where the law has specific requirements. If you want it onsite–just let us know–we can do that too.

2. The by-stander effect. This is a psychological term used to describe the fact that people are less likely to report an incident if there are others around who also witnessed it. This occurs for two reasons: 1) Each person assumes the other will report the incident, and 2) Each person assumes that if no one is intervening it must be ok.

If employees are aware that all complaints are investigated, they are less likely to believe it is acceptable. The type of investigation may be relatively simple, or more complex. There are certain methods for conducting a successful investigation, and we can guide you, train you how to investigate, or do it for you with attorneys on staff who conduct investigations.

3. Masculine culture. A third factor the Harvard research indicates that may reduce the likelihood of reporting sexual harassment is a highly male-dominated organization that can promote “locker room talk.” In this culture, women tend to see harassment where men see harmless fun.  This again is where ongoing training is particularly helpful.

I hope this is helpful. If you have any questions about this topic, or any other impacting your workplace, please call me.