Sexual harassment: what you need to know
He’s one of your best superintendents. He’s worked for you for 15 years, and you trust him. He brings projects in on time and within budget. Now one of your newest administrative employees claims he acted inappropriately when they were the only two in the office after hours.
You want closure and ask your office manager to take care of it. “Let her know we’ll give her three weeks’ severance,” you say, “and get us a replacement ASAP.” That’s when your office manager lets you know she heard rumbling a year ago about the same superintendent and that your new admin might not “go quietly.”
Welcome to sexual harassment problems 2018, a new playing field for employers that sparked with Harvey Weinstein and gained unstoppable velocity when thousands of women posted painful stories with the hashtag #MeToo. Serious, long-buried sexual harassment complaints now rock many workplaces — including ones not prepared to handle the topic. Even organizations well equipped to handle sexual harassment complaints and investigations are finding that their wheels are going off the tracks when faced with tension between two workplace groups: those ready for massive change, given #MeToo empowerment, and those who fear they now wear a target on their backs.
Here’s what #MeToo means to your workplace, along with what potentially needs to shift in how your organization handles sexual harassment, even complaints that stem from incidents years ago.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that three-quarters of those subjected to workplace sexual harassment never make a complaint (www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-weinsteinoreilly-workplace-sexual-harassment20171029story.html). Problems don’t occur in all workplaces, but low-level sexual harassment has gone unchecked in many. Women have learned how to navigate what was the norm and to bury what they couldn’t fix.
#MeToo broke the silence and ignited anger. Now that the spotlight is on the situation, harassers who have gotten away with problem behavior for years find themselves under fire.
What do employers need to do?
Employers need to decide how to handle complaints.
As an employer, you protect yourself when you state that sexual harassment doesn’t belong in the workplace and that no one is above the above the law. At the same time, you need to have systems in place to weed through false allegations, so those who make them don’t hold a smoking gun aimed at your company.
Employers need to provide training that includes letting managers and supervisors know what’s changed and how to recognize and get ahead of problems. You need to investigate all allegations including the one from your new administrative employee promptly. As recent media accounts prove, one allegation often represents the tip of an iceberg.
Failure to investigate increases your liability; an investigation that reveals your superintendent was unfairly targeted saves future problems.
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and founded The Growth Company, an Avitus company. Curry is now a Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting at Avitus Group. Send your questions to her at Lcurry@avitusgroup.com, follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10 or at www.workplacecoachblog.com.