Combatting Sexual Harassment after #MeToo Movement


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In October 2017, an actress launched a social media campaign to draw the public’s attention to sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood. The movement arose during a time when a well-noted Hollywood producer was being accused of serious sexual harassment.

The actress asked other victims of sexual harassment to use the hashtag #MeToo if they had gone through any similar experience. Millions of women responded by sharing their own horrifying stories and repeating the hashtag within 48 hours. The movement drew attention to the epidemic of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Employers became more conscious of these dynamics in the workplace and how prevalent the problem is. Many responded by instituting new policies and procedures for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment. Some potential ways to combat these issues include:

Provide Support

Many women are afraid to report instances of sexual harassment in the workplace because they are concerned about the effect that it might have on their career. They fear retaliation and being considered a “trouble maker” or “complainer.” Upper management can encourage victims to come forward with their stories. Colleagues can also provide support.

Learn about the Problem

Employers may try to learn about how large of a problem sexual harassment is in their workplace by conducting anonymous surveys. For example, they may include questions about the occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace in a health and safety survey. This gives the employer data about sexual harassment and abuse that they can use to assess the level of the problem and determine what action they need to take.

Develop Policies

Employment handbooks and stand-alone policies should be created to provide a clear and comprehensive policy on how to combat sexual harassment. These policies should define prohibited activity. They may also include examples of unacceptable conduct. Additionally, these policies should address anti-retaliation policies so that victims are not afraid to report instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Create Consequences

Part of the horrifying nature of the movement was that many individuals had acted in a lascivious manner and were not held to any consequences. Employment policies may include language such as that the offender will be subject to discipline “up to and including termination.”

Provide Training

Employers should also provide training to employees so that they are better able to identify and avoid sexual harassment. This training should be mandatory for all staff.

Use an Independent Investigation

If a claim of sexual harassment is reported, employers may consider using an external and independent investigation rather than overseeing these investigations themselves. Internal investigations may be more likely to yield a finding that there was no misconduct. However, internal investigators may be trying to protect the business by not finding liability. An independent investigation can help discern the truth while not being in the corporate chain of command. Additionally, an external investigation may help avoid the potential problem of employees remaining silent about the harassment as well as preventing litigation if a satisfactory result can be established without going to this extent. It is also a good idea to have the victim report these incidences to an independent individual, human resources or executive in the company instead of a direct supervisor to ensure privacy and that the complaint will be resolved in a professional manner.

Review Policies

After implementing new policies, employers should take the time to periodically review these policies. If the policy is too broad or too narrow, employers should consider modifying them. Routine audits can help discern when new updates should be made. Additionally, reviewing these policies on a regular basis can help show that the employer strived to create a safe workplace that sought to protect its employees.

Enforce the Policies

Once the policies are in place, employers should ensure that they enforce these policies. Employers should discuss these important issues with key members at varying levels of the corporation. Risk managers should review the hiring process and ensure that there is no harassment at this level or going forward. Human resources departments should be aware of these policies and the steps involved in investigating these claims. Employers should also keep an eye on the culture in the organization and if there are any indications that sexual harassment may be a problem. Stakeholders should know how to respond if a complaint is made. They should also know what types of disciplinary action may be helpful to stop the harassing behavior. Employers may wish to speak to an employment lawyer to ensure that they are compliant with all relevant laws.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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