By Elizabeth L. Van Moppes, Washington State Employment Law Lawyer
Daily, the news brings us word of another celebrity termination for allegations of workplace harassment. We’re hearing of politicians, actors, and coaches terminated. It seems no male superstar is safe (we’ve yet to see a woman accused but I feel certain it is coming). We are living in what is being called the “Weinstein Era” or the “#MeToo Movement.” Social commentary aside, we’re witnessing a sudden consciousness that is going to have both short term and long term impacts on the workplace. Harassment in the workplace will never again be viewed the same.
I’m receiving calls from clients concerned that they or their managers are next. They’re worried, in this wave of allegations, where they start to protect their business. And they should worry because reality tells us that harassment does occur, no matter how pleasant we believe our workplace to be. And harassment costs money; it costs in workplace morale, workplace productivity, reputation, and employee attrition. It can also have significant liability and litigation costs if an employer does not use best efforts to prevent harassment and address any complaints they might receive.
I strongly advise using this societal moment as an opportunity to thoroughly review your company’s anti-harassment and discrimination policies and procedures. Let your employees see you acknowledging the issue. Let them know you care and are committed to their well-being. Your good will means more to them than you might think.
Here’s a basic roadmap to follow:
- Review Your Harassment Policy. Be certain your policy reflects your company culture and the current law. It should clearly state that your company does not tolerate harassment or discrimination. It should set out the channels available to employees who have concerns or complaints. It must include a non-retaliation clause expressly condemning anyone who retaliates against an employee who brings forward a concern or participates in any investigation.
- Re-Distribute Your Policy. Now is a great time to re-distribute and/or re-post your anti harassment policy. Send it out via e-mail to all of your employees reminding them that you want them to be happy working for you. If they are not happy, or if they have concerns, your anti harassment policy advises them of ways that they can bring their concerns to your attention. (Yes, I realize that you are inviting your employees to complain. Trust me, you would rather have them complain now than find out about their dissatisfaction the hard way. Plus, it is the right thing to do.)
- Schedule Professionalism Training. Conduct harassment compliance training for all of your leadership, managers, and supervisors. Be certain that they are aware of their responsibilities with regards to handling complaints. They are your front line for issue spotting and handling complaints. How they handle the situation may determine whether the employee looks to you to resolve their issue – or elsewhere.
These three visible steps will help ensure that your employees understand the depth of your commitment to their well-being. These steps are part of your legal responsibility as an employer. Plus, they help protect you from liability should a workplace discrimination claim be filed against you.
That said, taking these steps, no matter how sincerely, will mean very little if you do not also educate yourself or your compliance manager on how to properly respond to allegations of harassment. And, if allegations are found to violate your anti-harassment policy, you must be prepared to implement prompt and appropriate remedial action designed to stop the harassment and prevent it from recurring. This means you must understand how to determine what an appropriate remedial action is, and what factors are relevant, including the nature and gravity of the offense.
The sea change playing out in our newspapers and various internet sites makes for interesting entertainment, but it is going to have a real impact on our workplaces – if it has not already. Taking these precautionary measures now could minimize that impact on your company’s budget and save you the additional immeasurable costs of good will to your workplace.
If you would like additional information about developing or implementing your anti-harassment policies, conducting professionalism and anti-harassment training, or conducting investigations, please contact the Beresford Booth attorney with whom you work or Elizabeth L. Van Moppes directly.
Beresford Booth PLLC (425.776.4100), www.beresfordlaw.com.
BERESFORD BOOTH PLLC has made this content available to the general public for informational purposes only. The information on the Beresford Booth PLLC site is not intended to convey legal opinions or legal advice.