Legal professionals who deal with sexual harassment now argue that corporate leaders undertaking one simple but drastic action is the only way to root out the behavior in the workplace.
Harassment already was recognized as a workplace plague before Harvey Weinstein and other prominent cases put the issue in the headlines.
Before Weinstein, the common legal advice was to create a company policy and training, and rigorously apply proper procedures for handling complaints.
After Weinstein, legal experts revised the advice, noting that once a complaint was filed, it was already too late – although proper complaint handling procedures are a must. The new emphasis was on using training to stem the problem.
However, a Society for Human Resource Management survey found 94% of the HR professionals polled said that while their employers have a policy on sexual harassment, 22% of non-management employees do not know for sure that these policies even existed. (AA, 2-28-18, P. 4)
In some cases, employees learn policies as part of new-hire orientation – along with a lot of other information they are expected to absorb in a short period. After that, anti-sexual harassment policies are only shared with employees during training, which occurs once a year or once every two years.
In many cases, employees treat formal training as a joke, or forgot what they learn because they believe they are incapable of perpetrating any offending behavior. Also, many perpetrators are powerful executives who simply believe these rules don’t apply to them.
What Really Works
Amy Epstein Gluck, an attorney with the law firm of FisherBroyles LLP, says she found an approach that works along with interactive training tailored to the workplace.
For it work, top management must convey clear and simple message to all employees, she says.
Epstein Gluck quotes here the reported remarks of one legal scholar who said, “I’ve seen leaders of companies go in front of their employees and say: ‘Listen, we’re here to work, not to cater to your social and sexual needs. If I hear you’re doing that, you’re out of here.’ It’s pretty strong, but harassment doesn’t happen in those places.”
As Epstein Gluck and her law partner Rich Cohen wrote in an Above the Law article, male employees should be mindful that “the primary reason that women are at your workplace as coworkers is so they can make a living and build a career.”
Organizational leaders who are willing to not only state but enforce these policies have better chances of shutting down sexual harassment, Epstein Gluck says.
When refusal to tolerate unlawful harassment comes from the very top of your organization, it demonstrates that the commitment to maintaining a culture of respect for all is expected of all employees, from the C-suite to the mailroom. “It says, ‘we’re serious here,’” Epstein Gluck says.
Pursuing these actions along with other preventative approaches definitely will help to alleviate this threat to your business and enlist the non-harassers in your workforce in the cause, she asserts.
“About half of women and men say their companies have responded to the #MeToo movement by taking action against harassers, updating and clarifying their policies, or offering employee guidance or training,” Epstein Gluck notes. The question is, she asks, “Are you going to be one of them and be part of the solution?”