Over the last year, sexual harassment and the common circumstances surrounding it have been, for lack of a better word, eye-opening. Though the idea of sexual harassment is nothing new, the prevalence of the issue in the age of the #MeToo movement has been nothing short of impactful.
Now, companies are focusing more on how to best combat the problem. With out-of-date policies, companies are learning more and more that they must somehow forge a path for a new standard.
Part of the bigger problem surrounding policy in the workplace begins with the emphasis placed, or not placed, on the important role of human resources. Though many companies have tended to view the department as a necessary afterthought, its focus has long been on administering benefits and meeting legal requirements; not dealing with issues of sexual harassment.
A law professor who specializes in employment discrimination at City University of New York, explains that not only is it a legal and moral issue, but a financial mistake as well. Those who are talking about and dealing with sexual harassment are not focused on and performing optimally. That is why it is important to properly invest in human resources and find ways to empower the department.
In addition, there are other initiatives that can be implemented into the corporate culture to make harassment less likely to occur.
Frequently, middle managers are the ones who fall responsible for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment. The issue with this is that while they do carry some weight, they do not have enough power to truly eliminate the issues.
Though they are aware that they can report allegations to HR, if an employee is reluctant to file an official claim with the department, the middle manager’s hands are often tied. That is why allegations often stop with these managers.
It is advisable for companies to put in writing their expectations surrounding reporting. If a manager is aware of an issue, but fails to report it, since the manager is considered to be a representative of the company, the company may still be found liable.
By designated select individuals to become well-versed in the issues surrounding sexual harassment and company policy, these individuals can be easily accessed if an allegation occurs.
Finally, sometimes individuals do not want to file a formal complaint; rather, they are just looking to express their disdain for how a situation occurred. This is why having an employee outside of HR allows other employees to assess whether they wish to file.
A major deterrent for coming forward to report sexual harassment is workplace retaliation. Though the law prohibits such conduct, it is all too common. Often, after a report is filed, the employee is victimized all over again, suffering professionally as a consequence.
The best option is to adopt a written non-retaliation policy, which spells out what retaliation is, and what the consequences of such retaliation would be.
Though sexual harassment training is a good idea, it is often only conducted to check off legal boxes. It frequently paints it out to be a black-and-white issue, though that is certainly not the case.
Bystander intervention training teaches employees what to do should they witness inappropriate behavior. It teaches them things such as conflict management techniques, including de-escalation and redirection techniques
It is important for companies to understand and to make known that not all behaviors, regardless of being inappropriate, are considered on the level of sexual harassment. The real focus needs to be on the workplace climate and overall company culture.
If you have been involved with a case surrounding the sexual harassment of a company employee, it is extremely important to take the proper steps to handle the situation correctly. Contact us online for a consultation with our employment law lawyers or call MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106.