Sexual harassment is not new, but the way that it is being handled in the 21st century is. Victims who were once intimidated into silence, submission, or both are now speaking up and taking action against perpetrators, and one of the most powerful tools that have facilitated this change is the #METOO movement.
Me Too was started over ten years ago by a social activist named Tamara Burke, but despite her best efforts and the good work it was doing, it wasn’t until actress Alyssa Milano added a hashtag and rallied victims to tweet out their experiences with sexual harassment that the movement became an international phenomenon and those guilty of harassment began to feel the consequences of their actions. The result has been a sea change in how victims are being treated and the illegal act is being recognized, and it has forced management and HR departments to sit up, take notice, and take action.
If you are an HR professional, there are specific steps you need to take to make sure that you are properly addressing sexual harassment in the workplace: otherwise you face a real risk of your organization being added to the list of those being called out via #METOO and having your credibility and integrity questioned in the public eye. What are those steps?
- Consider or reconsider your company’s current use of arbitration and nondisclosure agreements. One thing that came to light in many of the sexual harassment stories that dominated the news was the use of these agreements in lieu of appropriate investigations and disciplinary action.
- Understand that part of the HR department’s responsibilities within the organization is to provide a safe work environment. Prepare a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and be proactive about informing your workforce about it, as well as in preparing for the very real possibility that you will be faced with allegations about employees, as well as an employee’s complaint or #METOO tweet or both.
- Make sure that you have a process in place for conducting investigations and make sure that you are consistent in its pursuit, regardless of who allegations are made by or who they involve. Be sure to keep a record of all claims so that you can see when a pattern emerges.
- Check your own biases and preconceptions about sexual harassment. Remember that men can be victims of sexual harassment as easily as women and that not all perpetrators are in a supervisory position: in fact, one report indicated that 57 percent of those accused are colleagues within the victim’s organization.