Preventing #MeToo Moments at Work

15 Feb 2018

Last fall, the #MeToo movement ignited and it continues to build momentum.  A recent study by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission revealed that, “anywhere from 25% – 85% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”  Acknowledging the gap, the conservative estimate is that 1 in 4 people are affected by sexual harassment in the workplace.  Men are also impacted by sexual harassment at work.

As 2018 gets underway, it brings with it the promise of change in various employment-related rules and regulations, particularly at a federal level where the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) has issued guidance changing its position on everything from joint employers to social media policies, word that USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) plans to step-up its audits of employers for compliance with Form I-9s and an announcement from the U.S. Department of Labor of its plans to increase penalties for violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  One thing that is likely not to change in 2018 is the continued revelations of those whom have been subjected to sexual harassment and continued #MeToo discussions.  The question is, has your organization done everything it can to guard against becoming the next #MeToo social media frenzy?  Has your organization conducted a self-evaluation of its managers and determined whether it has any skeletons in the proverbial closet?  Rather than sitting back and waiting for the other shoe to drop, businesses should be proactive and take steps to avoid #MeToo blitzes against it on social media.

First, give yourself a gut check.  What conduct have you witnessed?  What is the organization’s culture?  Have managers and supervisors created an uncomfortable environment that appears to be tolerated?  If so, correct it… NOW!  It’s much easier to address behavior proactively than it is when the behavior is the subject of a complaint and every action is scrutinized.  Speak to the managers and supervisors about the need to make a change, to be more vigilant and keep inappropriate comments, innuendo and touching out of the workplace.  Just do it!

Second, review your reporting policies.  Are they working?  Is inappropriate conduct being reported?  If not, why?  Consider whether to modify your policies, adding avenues of reporting that include different levels and genders, consider whether the addition of a company hotline might be useful.

Third, train ALL employees on appropriate workplace behavior and the organization’s reporting policies.  Do you require employees to watch a video on sexual harassment  every year?  Have you ever had a live trainer?  Have you had the same live trainer the last 5 years?  Consider mixing up the training method and the instructor.  A fresh perspective or delivery may prove more effective.

Fourth, establishing policies and conducting training isn’t enough.  Your organization needs to demonstrate it is committed to addressing harassment and inequality in the workplace at all levels.  Culture is created from the top-down.  If the president or CEO is allowed to engage in the behavior and get away with it, other employees will follow.  Don’t create a culture wherein your employees feel they can’t report inappropriate behavior.

Make sure your organization doesn’t get consumed with #MeToo moments by taking control and being proactive.  Getting ahead of these issues not only will assist in the defense of any complaint, it also will create a work environment where employees can be more productive and excel.

About the Author:

Michelle B. FergusonMichelle B. Ferguson leads Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, PC’s Employment Law practice group.  Her practice focuses on preventative employment law finding ways to keep businesses out of court by being proactive in identifying and solving employment issues before a claim is filed.  She can be reached at 303-628-3658 or
mferguson@irelandstapleton.com.

Ireland Stapleton provides employment law advice on all forms of discrimination and harassment. We offer training on various types of issues, including sexual harassment and appropriate workplace behavior. For more information on our trainings contact Michelle B. Ferguson. This article is intended to provide general information and is not to be construed as legal advice. If legal advice is needed you should consult with an attorney.