When Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, was accused of sexual harassment and rape, women across the country felt empowered to come forward with their stories. The #MeToo movement quickly spread on social media and women (and some men) shared their experiences and it became apparent that the vast majority of cases do not involve high profile people. Sexual harassment came to the forefront as a problem that happens to people at every level of society.
In business, the human resources department plays a large contributory role in handling these issues within a company. One of the common threads in these stories is a shared frustration felt by victims that HR departments did not do enough. Victims felt their complaints were unheard, or even worse, concealed or covered up. Elizabeth Bille, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at the Society for Human Resource Management, states, “There’s been a lot of self-reflection about what we have been doing and what more we could be doing.” Companies and HR departments have taken a closer look at their policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment in order to address some of these concerns.
According to NAVEX Global (a legal compliance software company) there was an increase in reported sexual harassment incidents during the last quarter of 2017 and one in every two reports were substantiated. It is crucial for companies to not only quickly respond to harassment complaints, but also prevent them from happening in the first place. So what can companies do to improve?
Many small and mid-size companies don’t have large HR departments, in fact it may just be one person. The executives and upper management of the company should have a clear understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment. These are the leaders of the company who set the tone for what is acceptable company-wide behavior and what is not. It is also time to look at the current policies that are in place to determine if there are any gaps that need to be addressed.
Company-wide sexual harassment training is needed. Employees need to know how to recognize what constitutes harassment, what you need to do if you are the victim or see it happening to someone else, and what are the repercussions to the perpetrator of the harassment. Transparency is key. Employees should know the process that takes place when a complaint is lodged and as well as how the investigation will proceed and approximately how long it will take. This builds a feeling of trust.
There also needs to be accountability on all levels. This may mean hiring an outside firm to conduct workplace audits or providing independent whistleblower services. There also needs to be a way to assess that complaints are being handled in a fair and timely manner either by the HR department or supervisors or managers.
Sexual harassment is an uncomfortable topic, but one that cannot be avoided or hidden. If your company is in need of sexual harassment training or need help developing policies, contact De Novo HRConsulting at 610-340-1170 for more information.