The frightened employee called our ethics hotline 17 years ago to report that her former boss, a Vice President, was harassing her at her apartment building. He would show up at her apartment building, despite it being halfway across the US, and hide outside the entrance. He would appear as she approached the entrance to get a chance to speak with her. She had rebuffed his past requests to go out on a date.
Our investigation showed that he flew on company business to her city on the dates she reported his presence, using the stop as a layover to get where he needed to go for business. When confronted with the evidence, he admitted it and was fired.
Would your organization understand that this is sexual harassment, even though it occurred away from the work site? Would it investigate the incident? Would it act based on the investigation’s findings?
Public disclosures of alleged sexual harassment at Fox News and Uber, and allegations of sexual harassment by public figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Alabama Senatorial Candidate Ray Moore and Donald Trump have raised awareness that sexual harassment and discrimination is more widespread than thought. Moreover, the “#MeToo” campaign will lead to more allegations. Time magazine has made “The Silence Breakers” (those who came forward to complain about sexual harassment) the Person of the Year for 2017.
The Article also raised serious concerns about the role of human resources professionals and executives in promptly and impartially investigating allegations and then taking appropriate actions depending on the findings. Do human resources leaders have the courage to oversee impartial inquiries, or are they too beholden to the CEO?
Whether you are in a small or large organization, is your HR department prepared to conduct a thorough investigation and act? The question isn’t IF you will have an allegation of sexual harassment or discrimination, but how will you respond when it occurs?
Here are seven steps to take to make sure your organization isn’t caught flat-footed when sexual harassment allegations are leveled:
- Have executives reiterated their commitment to harassment-free work environments? Almost all companies have policies preventing harassment, bullying, and coercion, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of workplace rewards for sexual favors. What are you doing to reinforce that your company takes these rules seriously? It takes more than annual manager training. Have your executives recently reiterated that your work environment is harassment-free?
- Do employees know how to raise concerns? In addition to being able to complain to an employee’s manager, higher level management and human resources, does your organization offer hotlines or websites?
- Do you follow up with all reports of harassment? Actions speak louder than words. If word spreads among the workforce that complaints are not promptly and impartially investigated, workers won’t take the risk to report abuses. Instead, seriously aggrieved employees will go straight to the Equal Employee Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or file a lawsuit.
- Are your investigators competently trained? Are they given the resources to investigate the allegation properly? Whether the investigator is internal or outsourced, it is essential that the investigator knows how to conduct an investigation, is thorough, and acts promptly.
- Do you provide the concerned employee with investigation updates? Hearing nothing may leave the complainant thinking that no action is being pursued. Providing regular updates is important to show that the allegation is being taken seriously.
- Do you follow up with the employee to be sure the harassing behavior has genuinely stopped? Not all allegations of harassment end in termination. Even when they do, do you follow up with the employee who filed the complaint to make sure the offending behavior has ended? That no retaliation has taken place?
- Harassment isn’t always male on female. Men have been harassed and same-sex harassment is still sexual harassment.
Are your executives proactively creating a harassment-free workplace? Are you prepared to investigate complaints? Join the conversation.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides “hands-on” support for innovation, global talent strategies, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please email Victor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://www.victorhrconsultant.com for valuable free reports. For innovation visit http://www.InnovationOne.io.