Employers should take note of the position Fox News is in due to the proliferation of recent lawsuits against the network by numerous current and former employees. To be clear and fair, the lawsuits only involve allegations at this time – nothing has been proven at trial, or otherwise. Indeed, Fox News has denied the allegations. However, the common intertwined theme throughout all the lawsuits is that Fox News tolerates harassment, discrimination and retaliation. In short, the lawsuits attack Fox News’ workplace culture.
By having its workplace culture attacked, Fox News faces certain defense challenges. For instance, there is likely an increased risk of copycat or “me too” claims. In fact, Fox News has stated as much to the media. Additionally, the effectiveness of Fox News’ anti-harassment/discrimination policies and its remedial process addressing harassment or discrimination complaints is at issue. Therefore, the company may face challenges in asserting the defense that those employees or former employees alleging discrimination or harassment never complained about the alleged improper conduct, and therefore never gave the company an opportunity to take appropriate remedial action. Lastly, Fox News has suffered damage to its public reputation.
So what is the takeaway? Simply put, workplace culture matters. Employers should embrace the creation of a harassment/discrimination free workplace culture. Such a culture should reduce potential lawsuits because the company would be given the opportunity to redress issues early on. Additionally, such a culture will strengthen the company’s defenses against harassment and discrimination claims, lead to increased employee morale and protect against unfavorable publicity that can damage the employer’s reputation.
The following are tips for employers to help create a harassment/discrimination free workplace:
- Institute a written harassment/discrimination workplace policy with an effective complaint procedure. The complaint procedure should allow employees to bypass their immediate supervisors and report violations directly to other members of management or directly to the HR department. Convey the message that the policy applies to anyone in the workplace, including supervisors, co-workers, vendors and customers, and that anyone can be a harasser or victim.
- Provide training or information for current and new employees on policy. Conduct refresher training routinely.
- Implement training for supervisors and managers on relevant policies, including their supervisory responsibilities and role in ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination and harassment policies.
- Develop the expectation that any employee who is a victim or witness to harassment or discrimination is required to report it.
- Communicate that retaliation for raising complaints will not be tolerated.
- Treat complaints confidentially, to the extent practical.
- Investigate alleged incidents of harassment/discrimination promptly and objectively. Remember that your selection of the individual(s) conducting the investigation matters. The investigator(s) should have sufficient authority to take appropriate remedial action and should be credible. At the end of the investigation, discuss the results with individual who made complaint.
- Institute appropriate disciplinary action, up to termination, when investigation determines that a policy violation has occurred.
- Prior to terminating or taking adverse action against an employee, examine potential basis for a retaliation allegation.