Employers like Fox News and NBC have millions of dollars to spare on harassment training, settlements, PR and legal fees. Do you?
For employers weary of harassment complaints, the headlines these days are scary:
- “EEOC: Workforce Sexual Harassment Training ‘Must Change’” – KSTP 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, 12/1/17
- “Senators push for funding bill to include money for sexual harassment training” – The Hill, 12/14/17
- “Sexual harassment training in vogue for companies after scandals” – San Francisco Chronicle, 11/28/17
- “Sexual harassment, assault claims cost SC taxpayers $13+ million over decade” – The State, 12/8/17
The year 2017 will probably go down as the year sexual harassment became a regular headline issue in national news. Harassment and assault whistleblowers even collectively became Time’s Person of the Year. This past October, we reported about the explosive employer wakeup call that came after the now-infamous and very public Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment revelations. The Weinstein Company will likely face unprecedented legal battles for years to come, and the damage to their internationally recognized brand is done. Weinstein and his company will be held accountable for his actions, despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not more) his company shelled out in settlements and other attempts to quiet his accusers over the course of decades.
The Weinstein Company had an estimated net worth of about $150 million at the time the scandal broke in the news. That’s not exactly chump change, and throwing money at the problem did not, in the end make Weinstein’s sexual harassment accusations go away. Take a moment now to consider that sexual harassment complaints are made across in just about every kind of workplace, regardless of size, in all corners of the country.
Even government workplaces the costs of sexual harassment complaints are steep: U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, who is retiring amid a growing sexual harassment scandal of his own, was found to have use taxpayer funds to pay a $84,000 settlement in an attempt to hush one incident. He was not alone, either. Michigan Congressman John Conyers paid $27,000 (also in taxpayer money) to settle a harassment complaint from a former female aide. Conyers has since resigned.
Does your business have that kind of money to spare?
Probably not. And if it did, why on earth would you want to use it to repair damage caused by harassment claims? Before you tell yourself this could never happen in your workplace, we’d like to share with you some eye-opening facts from the Society of Human Resource Management’s recent piece on sexual harassment. SHRM summarized an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that found:
- Harassment based on sex made up 45% of all cases brought to the EEOC in 2015.
- Sexual harassment is the most prevalent of all cases the EEOC
- Last year, they agency recovered $164.5 million for harassment cases.
- Nearly one-third of approximately 90,000 charges the agency received in 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment.
- Harassment contributes to decreased productivity and increased turnover.
Businesses are taking notice
A recent Yahoo News article reported that, in 2016 American businesses spent an estimated $2.2 billion on insurance policies that included covering the legal fallout from sexual harassment allegations, and that insurer Nationwide saw a 15% jump in employment practices liability insurance policy sales starting just after the Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly ousters from Fox News over sexual harassment allegations that happened in the fall of 2016 and running through September 2017.
As you can see, harassment complaints are nothing to take lightly. They can be expensive, disruptive and damaging to your company in so many ways. Sadly, many organizations find themselves ill-prepared to deal with a sexual harassment complaint when one is filed. This isn’t a risk worth taking.
Make sure your company is equipped to deal with harassment issues
“It is important for business owners and executives to realize that how they and their organization react to a harassment claim, whether they think it is merited or not, becomes part of the issue itself,” says Tina Hamilton, PHR, president of myHR Partner. “As soon as an incident or situation is brought to your attention, you are on record. That’s why it is critical to know how to respond to such scenarios properly.”
“By all means, don’t joke about the alleged victim, or embarrass or belittle them,” warns Hamilton. That kind of behavior will only undercut the perceived objectivity of your internal investigation, so just stick to the facts and use nonjudgmental terms.
Instead, when faced with a harassment claim, some important steps employers should to take include:
- Prevent retaliation
- Keep the accuser and accused from interacting on the job, via reasonable managerial steps
- Compile and review all related documents (this includes social media posts, emails, and text messages)
Two important things employers need to do, right now
There are two important HR functions that can help protect employers in the case of a workplace harassment claim: documentation and training. These need to be done correctly and consistently to be effective protection for your business, and they need to be implemented now, before an issue arises.
Keep good records
“Documentation is imperative when dealing with any kind of harassment claims,” says Hamilton. Records need to be detailed correctly, so they don’t come back to bite you later, she adds. Avoid words and phrases that editorialize incidents that are being written about for documentation purposes, and in all your written correspondences as well.
“I advise our clients to always err on the side of Dragnet, and the ‘just the facts, mentality when they are documenting anything that could potentially be used in some kind of arbitration on litigation someday,” says Hamilton. Be factual, concise and leave your opinions and emotions off the page, she recommends. “That’s not just being cautious, that’s also being just plain old professional.”
Don’t skimp or skip on harassment training
Beyond record keeping, companies can benefit immensely from quality training for managers on such topics as harassment, conflict resolution and employee communications, says Hamilton. “Before an incident occurs, you want to educate your management team about what constitutes harassment and discrimination,” says Hamilton. “You want to give them the proper tools to help prevent things from spiraling out of control within your organization during a crisis.”
Effective harassment training is engaging, targeted for your industry and workplace culture and up-to-date on the most current regulations and social climate. If you are simply passing out a decades-old photocopies of harassment policies or showing your team the same generic video you found on YouTube or got free from a trade show somewhere, this isn’t going to cut it anymore. And if you are not making harassment training a periodic and ongoing part of your overall continuing-education schedule for managers, you may be leaving your company vulnerable.
Protect your business now
myHR Partner has a wide range of services that can help you safeguard your business and workforce. This includes customized training offerings that will help you educate your managers so that they can play a pivotal role in protecting your organization’s brand. Beyond being good for business, in some states, like California, annual or periodic harassment training is required by law.
Whether you are looking for workshops on harassment, documentation or some other employer need, our team is ready to assist you. Learn more about our dynamic and customizable training programs and how they can help improve your bottom line.