Shortly before Thanksgiving, 21st Century Fox settled a derivative shareholder case related to a number of sexual harassment scandals at Fox. As part of that settlement, Fox entered into an agreement for non-monetary relief. Companies that wish to avoid being in the same situation as Fox might want to consider voluntarily implementing some of the terms of Fox’s non-monetary relief agreement.
In its agreement, for example, Fox agreed to adopt and publicly broadcast a statement that it has zero tolerance for sexual harassment as well as zero tolerance for retaliation. Fox agreed to put some real power behind this statement by making it one adopted by its board and published by its board in a public statement. But you don’t need to be in Fox’s position to take these steps. It makes sense for all employers to issue a clear statement of the company’s—and its board’s—commitment to maintaining a workplace free of discrimination and retaliation.
Fox’s also committed to create a workplace professionalism and inclusion council that includes not only two top-ranking HR executives. Fox has also committed to involving employees in the Council’s activities and the Council has the authority to conduct its own investigations.
While an employer that is not facing a current lawsuit may not think it is necessary to create a council dedicated to addressing workplace harassment claims, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from Fox’s commitment to do so. I have seen a number of circumstances recently where the alleged harasser was in a position of authority and possesses disparate power compared with other employees in the company. Employees may be reluctant to raise concerns with the human resources department especially if the harasser has some authority over that department. A council or committee that a provides a safe route for such employees to tell their stories might avoid bigger issues down the road. The more ways that exist for employees to communicate issues or concerns, the more likely that they will be addressed. As many companies are now learning, pervasive problems that everyone is talking about are often overlooked.
Finally, get outside help if needed. There are consultants who provide valuable insight and can perform external investigations. Not all consultants are created equal so be judicious in making such a decision. But if a harassment issue can only be resolved fully and honestly by letting a third party be the bad guy, then it is time and money well spent.
Failing to learn these lessons could mean a judge, a government agency, or the court of public opinion forces these lessons upon the company in the future.