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Sexual Harassment: Making the Workplace Safe for Everyone

Sexual harassment has dominated recent headlines since The New York Times broke the story on Harvey Weinstein. And companies across the country have taken note. As most business owners and HR professionals know, sexual harassment is a complex issue.

In the most recent episode of Paycom’s HR Break Room podcast, we spoke with founder, Jessica Miller-Merrell, and McAfee & Taft attorney Tony Puckett about how organizations can learn from recent headlines. Here are a few takeaways.

A culture of complicity is toxic

The Weinstein Company seemingly suffered from a culture of complicity, as evidenced by the number of women who came forth and board members who resigned since the inciting reports.  While sexual harassment and assault cases are a blow against an organization they do provide an opportunity to review and revise policy. Human resource teams and management aren’t always aware of when harassment occurs, so when incidents go unreported, trends could continue to escalate and get out-of-hand.

Building a healthy and safe employee culture begins with reflecting on your organization. Is your existing culture unintentionally promoting, facilitating or ignoring sexual harassment, as was allegedly the case with The Weinstein Company? Making changes within your organization starts by asking these questions and beginning conversations of reform with your company leadership.

Everyone is accountable to uphold policy

The current events are a great opportunity for HR to combat a culture of complicity by evaluating  policies. Ensure your organization has a clear, written, sexual harassment policy that is communicated regularly to your workforce. Educate all employees, including new hires, management and the C-suite, on available resources and protections.

The conversation about your sexual harassment policy should extend beyond employee orientation. Keep an ongoing conversation about your company’s rules of engagement and continually evaluate what should and shouldn’t happen in the workplace.

And, when building your sexual harassment policy, it’s critical to include a retaliation provision to guarantee employee protection. Managers, organization leaders and all employees need to understand when somebody reports a complaint or is a part of an investigation, no one can or should retaliate. Your employees need to feel empowered to say something if they see something.

Harassment hasn’t changed, but the methods continue to evolve

Today, harassment can happen via email, smartphones, tablets and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. With so many avenues for communication between employees, the opportunity for sexual harassment continues to expand beyond the workplace. HR needs to understand how your employees communicate.

To remain in step with the ever-changing channels through which sexual harassment occurs, HR needs to revisit existing harassment policies annually.

During the annual harassment policy review, plan as if a sexual harassment investigation is on the horizon. If and when a report does occur, your processes and procedures already will be in place. Your advance strategy can be achieved by training your managers and employees on a regular basis, so situations and scenarios – like those that allegedly occurred at the Weinstein Company – will not happen.

Listen to the HR Break Room podcast episode, Sexual Harassment: Making the Workplace a Safe Space to learn what can HR and leaders nationwide can do to prevent sexual harassment and create a safer workplace.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.