So, you’re not a studio big-wig. Or a major media executive. Maybe you don’t work in a high-profile position for a major corporation. You should be safe from being accused of sexual harassment in your office – right? Ah, were it only so simple!
It’s not that Harvey Weinstein broke new ground – or more accurately, the allegations against him by many accusers broke new ground. Sexual harassment in the workplace as a violation of federal, state and many local laws has been on the books for many years. It just seems that only recently have these types of cases gained steam. In fact, a day does not go by that some new allegation is reported in one media outlet or another. At least one source has referred to this phenomenon as a rebirth of the Salem witch hunts.
In a recent report by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), for the period covering the agency’s fiscal years 2010 through 2016, there were 51,022 charges filed alleging sexual harassment. And, those numbers do not include similar charges filed with state and/or local agencies. During that same period, the EEOC reports that some $232 million were paid out as a result of these charges.
In a recent telephone poll by Louis Harris and Associates of 782 workers, 31% of the female workers claimed to have been harassed at work and, of those, 43% of the harassers were the supervisor of the complainants.
One very easily could conclude that not only are these cases not going away but, to the contrary, we will continue to see an uptick in sexual harassment charges and complaints. And, we are seeing these types of cases across a broad spectrum of industries, including large conglomerates as well as small, family-run businesses.
So, what is the prudent executive to do in these times? Preventive Maintenance! It is time for all employers to review and update their corporate policies concerning sexual harassment. More importantly, perhaps, it would be wise to renew (or in some cases adopt and implement for the first time) training programs for all employees, both management and hourly alike. Employers need to send a strong, unwavering message that the organization has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment.
And, the foregoing is not simply “window dressing”. In a recent case where Barton LLP successfully defended a high-profile, nation-wide company against spurious sexual harassment allegations, the federal judge, in dismissing the lawsuit, was very complementary of that company’s sexual harassment policy and the speed with which it responded to the allegations of wrongdoing.
Simply stated, a solid, up-to-date policy, coupled with serious training, will not necessarily insulate a company against unfounded sexual harassment charges, but it can go a long way toward the successful defense if one ends up in court.