- Workplace sexual harassment is a current hot button issue.
- Employers should evaluate and, if necessary, update how they respond to sexual harassment allegations.
Anyone who has been paying attention to the news in recent months is aware that sexual harassment, especially in the entertainment and media industries, is one of the hot button issues of the day. The use of #MeToo in social media has been touted as a way for women (and men) to share personal experiences. Of course, sexual harassment can occur in any industry, anywhere in the country, and all employers would be well advised to pay attention and consider the following actions.
Update the Company’s Anti-Harassment Policy
While most employers have an anti-harassment policy in place, it should be reviewed and updated regularly; we suggest annually. Even if there are no major changes to the law since the policy’s last review, other important societal changes (for instance, the prevalence of social media use) may need to be addressed. Make sure all employees have received the policy and acknowledged its receipt in writing.
Employers should also educate their employees on the anti-harassment policy. In some jurisdictions, training is mandatory. Due to the current environment, we suggest that now is a good time to review the company’s policy, make any needed revisions and conduct anti-harassment training, which should be repeated every two years.
Review Reporting Structure & Be Prepared to Investigate
An employer’s “reporting structure” is the internal mechanism that enables employees to report harassment. For example, some companies have anonymous hotlines, some require that incidents be reported to Human Resources and others direct employees to report up the chain of command. There are even phone apps that can be used to report harassment. The goal is to make it easy for employees to complain. And, when a report does come in, the designated individuals should be fully trained and prepared to respond promptly.
Watch for Legal Developments
Several states are contemplating legislation in the wake of recent sexual harassment headlines. New York, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington are considering passing laws that limit the use of non-disclosure and mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts and settlement agreements. Proponents of such laws argue that the use of these types of clauses keeps bad behavior out of the public eye and doesn’t effectuate widespread change. Opponents suggest that without private mediation, employers and employees will be forced to make very private subject matter public. We will monitor legal developments in this area and provide updates as they become available.