From Twitter hashtags to news media talking points, #MeToo has come to powerfully symbolize what many have termed a “watershed moment” for modern American culture on the issues of sexual harassment and sex discrimination. And it’s easy to see why: It is estimated that #MeToo has been retweeted almost 2 million times across 85 countries. It appears that the movement is picking up steam, with women (and men) of all backgrounds and all professions sharing their stories of abuse and harassment.
The #MeToo movement also raises legal and practical considerations for employers and employees as they navigate what appears to be a cultural shift in attitudes related to workplace interactions. A harassment-free workplace culture isn’t just vital for employers’ legal compliance initiatives—it’s also good for business. Harassment routinely results in low employee morale, less productivity, and low retention rates. Further, in terms of the monetary costs of harassment in the workplace, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that employers paid over $160 million to victims of sexual harassment last year alone—a number that is likely to grow.
Given these considerations, now more than ever, employers will find it helpful to closely examine their harassment policies. Consider these practical steps:
1. Drafting and Implementing Policies
Tighten and revise your company’s harassment policies and procedures. Define harassment in concrete terms. Be sure your policies contain several avenues for reporting harassment. Remember that policies can include a provision regarding the consequences of failing to report harassment about which an employee is aware.
2. Training Personnel
Provide sexual harassment training to all levels of employees—which is mandatory in some states. This should include separate training for supervisors. Remember: No employee is immune from accusations of harassment and, in many instances, senior executives are the object of accusations. Include everyone in your organization’s training requirement.
3. Communicating Policies and Investigating Complaints
Take this opportunity to redistribute your policies and procedures to all employees. When redistributing policies, employers may want to acknowledge the #MeToo movement and consider establishing an open-door complaint policy. Foster an environment where victims feel supported, free from shame, and free from shaming, which can take the form of unlawful retaliation. When an employee comes forward, use a high level of professionalism, keep investigations confidential, and follow the procedures set forth in your policies. Document the investigation and follow up with the complainant, no matter the outcome.
4. Public Relations
Consider how your organization will handle public, online proclamations of #MeToo that implicate other employees of your company. This might be an opportune time for companies to review their social media policies.
It’s clear the #MeToo movement has far reaching implications for not only employees, but employers, as well. Given the daily news reports on allegations of harassment and abuse, employers may consider embracing this opportunity to reaffirm their policies promoting a safe workplace for all employees and paving the way for a more promising future for employees, clients, and their own business growth.
For an in-depth look at the law on sexual harassment and steps you can take to prevent it in your workplace, join us for our upcoming webinar, “The “Weinstein Effect”: What Employers Can Expect in the New Era of Sexual Harassment,” Sara Jones (Managing Director, Smith & Company), who is a leading public relations expert on crisis management on November 29, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. Pacific. To register for this timely program, click here.