What Can An Employer Do About Sexual Harassment?

In a recent blog article entitled “What can employers in Massachusetts learn from the recent sexual harassment scandals “AttorneyAmelia J.Holstrom of the Law Firm of Skoler Abbott recounts the recent national news regarding celebrities and the topic of sexual harassment? She notes how the spotlight is shining brightly on this topic. We do agree with her point that the increased reporting at the national level will likely lead to more reporting in general.  You can enjoy Atty.  Holstrom’s article in its entirety at https://www.skoler-abbott.com/2017/11/17/what-can-employers-in-massachusetts-learn-from-the-recent-sexual-harassment-scandals/

In light of this likelihood, employers should also be proactive in gauging how vulnerable their organization may be.  Consider the following:

  1. Conduct a Climate & Culture Check – Starting with the active involvement from the executive leadership, companies need to be out on the floor listening for and checking in with their employee on the issue of workplace respect and related behaviors. Employees are watching the news and discussing the topic amongst them. Knowing how your employees are feeling and letting them have an outlet to talk could be a preemptive measure. 

    Another good step would be to specifically check in with your supervisor group. Providing them a chance to talk about this difficult topic could be important.  This will allow them to ask questions and seek answers to their concerns. This will serve to emphasize your cultural values on workplace respect and reinforce the expectations of them in supporting the sexual harassment policy.   

  2. Dust Off the Sexual Harassment Policy- Now is the time to do a full review of your Sexual Harassment policy to ensure that it covers the required language on Federal and State laws. It should include but is not limited to a full definition of Sexual Harassment, give examples of unacceptable behavior, and include language of no retaliation. It should the complaint process including who to contact with in the company.   In this regard, the best practice would be to provide the names of two manager representatives (preferably of opposite genders) including their internal phone numbers or emails that employees can reach out to should they wish to file an internal complaint. Additionally the policy should contain references to external resources for employees and file a claim of discrimination. 

    It is important that this policy be alive and well in your organization. Employees should be aware of it and how they can come forward if they have a concern. Additionally supervisors should be aware of their role in enforcing the policies as an agent of the company. We cannot be afraid to use our policies to ensure that the right behaviors are going on to the organization.  Furthermore, having actively enforced policies can further create credibility in your practices so that employees feel more comfortable utilizing your internal procedures for resolution rather than going outside the organization (which is their right).

  3. Awareness, Education & Training – the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state commissions require employers to take the steps necessary to make employees aware of their rights under these laws. Some states such as Connecticut require training for supervisors, if the company has 50 or more employees and the individual has been in a supervisory role for six months. The training is aimed at specifically educating and making supervisors aware of what is required under state laws. In an effort to control liability it has become an HR best practice to provide training for supervisors on this topic. The training is to insure they are aware of how to recognize and handle employee situations. State agencies have acknowledged employer training efforts as a factor to consider in determining cases. 

    Many companies have determined that they need to bring some level of training to all employees. This is done to educate them about the company policy so that they may be aware of what is and is not acceptable at work.

  4. Recognizing and Handling of employee complaints –Probably the most important area of concern is being prepared to identify and respond to an employee complaint. Being aware of what is and is not acceptable under policy, hopefully reinforced trough training, supervisors need to respond to and not ignore issues. If a supervisor was aware and did not report or respond it could create potential liability.  Timely response to an employee issue is essential. Serious issues such as sexual harassment generally don’t just get better with time.  Ignoring them hoping they will go away has very seldom solved the problem. 

    Having someone in the organization that is skilled at investigating these matters including how to conduct interviews, check facts and write a report is important to efficiently handling these claims. There are times when considering the use of an external investigator could be considered such as when matter involves a senior manager or the organization want someone more neutral so as to be unbiased.

As noted, the spotlight is on this topic bigger and brighter than ever. Organizations will be wise to do all that they can to ensure that they are building a respectful workplace by having the proper policies in place and backing them up with good practices such as training and awareness for employees.

The Employers Association provides training, coaching and other services on this topic for both managers and employees.  For more information, contact Peter Brunault toll-free at (877) 662-6444 or via email at pbrunault@eane.org.