You’ve seen the news. You’ve heard about Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor and countless others. There is a new conversation in America about sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. Many women speak proudly about joining a movement. Lots of men are part of “the movement,” too. Political debates are happening—not only in newsrooms and on colleges campuses—but in ordinary workplaces, too. People are trying to understand what this movement means and how far it might go.
But this article is not about politics or philosophy. It’s about good, old-fashioned legal compliance. In the wake of #Time’s Up and #MeToo, business owners and managers should expect more scrutiny in their workplaces. Here are a few tips for navigating those waters:
- It’s all about respect. An employer should work to cultivate an atmosphere of respect in the workplace. It doesn’t really matter what the law allows or requires, how a policy reads, or where the political movements may be going. If employees are treated with respect, they will be more satisfied and more productive. The company will run more smoothly and will have less risk of liability. Getting workers to respect one another is the key to a successful workplace. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.
- Think about dusting off your equal employment and anti-harassment policies. In the past few years, the basic law surrounding sexual and other unlawful harassment has not changed much. If you have a policy crafted within the last few years, it is probably adequate under controlling law. But do employees understand it? Does anyone even read it? One small step in promoting a culture of respect is simply revising and re-circulating an easy-to-understand policy. This lets employees know you take the matter seriously.
- Consider workplace training. Lawyers and other outside professionals can come to your workplace and provide training on discrimination laws and promoting a culture of respect. Work closely with any training provider to make sure you don’t receive the kind of bad skits that are rightly satirized on workplace sit-coms. But new training materials and methods are constantly being made available. And taking time out of a workday to promote awareness is another way to encourage a culture of respect.
- Lead by example. The best way for managers and business owners to encourage their workers to respect one another is by showing respect themselves. If you’ve been a little too glib with off-color jokes, then change your behavior. If you have a Weinstein in your organization, then clean house. My standard workplace advice is that if there is something you’d be ashamed to say or do with your spouse or mother watching, then don’t ever say it or do it.
- Respond appropriately to complaints. Despite best efforts, you may receive a complaint of harassment or other discrimination. It could come through internal channels or from an outside agency, like the EEOC. If that happens, take it seriously. Contact your legal advisors for assistance; investigate thoroughly; implement any changes that may be needed; and protect complaining parties against retaliation.
Most employers are just trying to run a business. They don’t want to be for or against a political movement, and they certainly don’t want to be in the news for complaints of harassment or other misconduct. To help run your business as smoothly as possible, pay attention to the little things that promote a culture of respect.
Disclaimer: The THK Legal Blog is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. In no case does the published material constitute an exhaustive legal study, and applicability to a particular situation depends upon an investigation of specific facts. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.