The repercussions of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior have led to a watershed moment in the world of harassment and discrimination. With individuals coming forward almost daily with both opposite sex and same sex harassment and abuse situations, this is becoming a confessional and cathartic moment for both men and women to come forward with issues from the recent and deep past. It presents an opportunity for employers to consider their strategies to deal with harassment and discrimination.
These dramatically unfolding episodes are not just affecting the entertainment industry; many private industries and public sectors are going through this dramatic, public revelation and self-examination. Reputations – that priceless, intangible quality that normally take years for all of us to build, can be lost in an instant.
As practitioners in this area, we always look to prevent litigation and embarrassing episodes for our clients. We have put together many preventive steps employers can take to strengthen their policies and practices:
1. Reporting Mechanisms. While we can predict that with this new climate, complaints will go up, there is way too much harassing activity that does not get reported. This lack of reporting needs to be examined and remedied. While whispers and rumors are often not reliable, they can alert an employer to look further. Also, look at your reporting mechanism and those who are supposed to receive complaints. Is your system proactive? Does your HR staff have good business rapport with your employees? Is there a choice of individuals, both male and female, to whom complaints can be directed?
2. The Power Dynamic. Power is often at the heart of harassment and sexual abuse. This does not come as a surprise to those of us who practice in this area. Should you take extra time and cover more issues in training the senior staff?
3. The Right Business Culture. Fostering a business culture that respects human dignity can be more important than achieving business results. If you promote civility and respect you will engender not only loyalty and hard work, but also an enviable culture that becomes part of your message to the public and your target market.
4. HR Professional. Hiring and promoting well rounded, empathetic and smart HR professionals is invaluable in maintaining solid trust with your employees.
5. Training. Plan ongoing Respect in the Workplace training (the rule of thumb is every two years) to all staff on anti-harassment. If you can do so, use skilled attorney practitioners, rather than trainers so that the sessions will resonate better. Make the attendance at training mandatory. Obtain the endorsement of the senior team and make sure they participate in the training. Don’t make the training boring or too long or else it will not be effective. Our training is typically 60 to 90 minutes- the longer time is when we train managers/supervisors.
6. Anti-Harassment Audit. Get a good “read” on your organizational culture. We have developed a Workplace Culture Audit that explores your current policies and practices in a systematic and sensitive manner. The Audit process will give you vital information to shape more individualized training, and consider other tools that may be necessary to improve reporting, prevention and compliance.
7. The Take Away. We look at the shifting power dynamic in the area of harassment, abuse and discrimination as the time for our clients to take stock of their systems and step up prevention. Viewing the changing social landscape as an opportunity to reinforce your commitment to a better workplace is smart business.