Monday, July 11, 2016

Developing an anti-harassment culture is key to stopping workplace harassment

You’ve likely heard that former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes, her former boss and the Chairman and CEO of Fox News. The lawsuit alleges that Ailes retaliated against Carlson (which included ultimately firing her) after she spurned his sexual advances. You can read the lawsuit, which details the alleged harassment, here

This lawsuit is interesting for many reasons, including the fact that alleged perpetrator was also the CEO of the business. If the buck stopped with him, to whom could an employee complain about his harassing behavior? In other words, what do you do when harassment reaches the highest levels of your organization? This question is a difficult one for businesses to answer. Let me make a few suggestions:

  1. Any harassment policy must have more than one avenue available for an employee to complain, such as different people across different department.
  2. Additionally, employees should not be limited to complaining in person. Employees should be able to complain in writing, over the phone, or by email.
  3. Consider setting up a telephone or email hotline to log complaints.
  4. The owner, CEO, or other higher-up should be screened-off from any investigation, other than his or her investigatory interview.
  5. Ensure that the company does not retaliate against the complaining employee.

Any anti-harassment program, however, will not be worth the paper on which it’s written unless the company has a culture that abhors harassment. In other words, an employer must take all complaints seriously. Taking complaints seriously includes ensuring that all employees understand the harassment policy, that employees have more than one avenue to make complaints, that investigators are properly trained, and that the company regularly reviews its policies and procedures for compliance and effectiveness. No anti-harassment program is perfect, but you must have one that’s effective. Otherwise, no matter where the he-said/she-said pendulum swings, you will start every harassment case at a disadvantage.