So, You Haven’t Had Harassment Training Recently…
You may have heard through the grapevine (i.e. all forms of media and entertainment) that the veil of secrecy covering up unwelcome touching, kissing, ogling, joking, innuendo and threats by persons with power and fame is being lifted. Why it took accusations against Harvey Weinstein, and not the litany of other famous people preceding him, to be accused of sexual assault or harassment to start a domino effect is curious. What is clear though is that the dominos are toppling and will without question have a national impact on employers. Consider this my first New Year prognostication: you will be addressing an increasing volume of harassment in the workplace claims.
How your business will be impacted by increased scrutiny of co-worker interactions and the demystification of the powerful will be based on a number of factors, some within your control, and some outside your control. Culture, training, policies, discipline and messaging are generally within the businesses’ control and how you handle these factors will likely have a great impact on your overall exposure to harassment allegations. If your company has not been diligent about creating a culture that condemns harassment and its ilk or encouraging of employees to report offensive behavior in the workplace now is the time to get in front of the situation before your company is next to be embarrassed on social media.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TODAY TO LOWER YOUR RISK AND IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES THAT YOUR COMPANY AND ONE OF YOUR MANAGERS ISN’T THE NEXT HARVEY WEINSTEIN?
You need to have clear anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, and perhaps anti-bullying, policies. These rules set the framework for how your company views this sort of behavior and can be the first step toward setting the tone culturally on this issue.
You must have a detailed and multi-leveled reporting mechanism in place to address employee complaints. If you do and if you are brought into a co-worker (not manager) harassment situation that was not reported, then have the ability to affirmatively argue that your company is not liable. Without the reporting mechanism, however, you cannot make this argument.
Managers need training on expectations, culture and how to handle complaints of harassment. States like California even require that employers provide this training. I suspect other states in the wake of all of the publicity on harassment will start mandating training. Annual training should be conducted by an outside law firm or vendor knowledgeable in harassment and workplace issues.
If you want to develop a culture prohibiting this sort of unwanted behavior then consider regular training for employees as well. This could be done by HR or a law firm or other third party knowledgeable in areas of harassment, your policies and workplace issues. The key is to discuss the company’s expectations and accountability for everyone, the reporting mechanism, and how retaliation for reporting offensive behavior will not be tolerated.
Only companies with no employees can mitigate their risk to claims of harassment entirely. Every other business is going to have some risk, but with planning and resources dedicated to the factors that an employer can control employers can improve their chances of not employing the next Harvey Weinstein or being plastered across social and regular media sources.
To discuss training options for your business or to have a review of your harassment policy, please contact Thompson Coe at any time.
Thompson Coe’s Tips of the Week are not intended as a solicitation, do not constitute legal advice and do not establish an attorney-client relationship.