“We received a notice from the EEOC about a harassment claim. Can you believe it?”
Yes, I can. Harassment claims are headlining the nightly news. Every day a new story breaks about an allegation of harassment, or worse sexual abuse.
This is exploding in government and Hollywood. But truly, it has been happening in corporate America for years. It just has not been front page news for some time.
Do you recall the surge of diversity and sensitivity training in the 1990’s ignited by the very brave Anita Hill? What about the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic when people experienced discrimination in the workplace based on HIV status or sexual orientation?
Employees are finally finding their voice and saying no more to being a #metoo statistic. This is a huge relief. As a human resource professional, my heart sinks when I get a report of harassment or maltreatment, because what I strive for is a culture of dignity and respect.
Why is this happening? What drives an employee to make a public pronouncement? Why aren’t employees seeking resolution from within the company?
The diagnosis of why is different for every organization. Here are a few key areas to evaluate at your organization so you can avoid ever needing to consider why.
Review your process for reporting and resolving employee relations issues related to harassment. Is it interactive, non-retaliatory, confidential, and does it maintain the dignity of every person involved. Yes, every person, even the accused. Does your policy include how an employee can make a claim? Is there a designated department or person who handles such issues? Is that person appropriately trained? Can an employee report a claim outside the normal chain of command? Do you have a line to an outside expert for really tough situations?
Assuming you have that mastered, determine whether your policy is known at every level of the organization from the CEO to the receptionist. Does your management team know what to do when an employee reports a concern, and do they do it? What happens after the complaint is filed? Is there a timely and thorough investigation and response?
Finally, evaluate whether your corporate culture is contributing to an atmosphere of fear and disrespect. Was this an isolated incident? How many other reports of harassment have there been? Do I see a systemic problem in my organization?
The Weinstein case is an example of systemic abuse and cover up. People in the organization say they did not know, but I am certain some knew or suspected, and yet the behavior was allowed to continue. Why? Fear. Fear of retaliation, of not being believed, of having your integrity questioned or reputation damaged.
Whether you successfully arbitrate an employee harassment claim early on in the process or the claim goes all the way to a lawsuit, the drain on time, money and employee morale can be devastating, not to mention the potential for a public relations nightmare.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is never a more true statement than when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of your human resources policies and the culture of your organization.
Let People First HR help you build a foundation of integrity, respect and open communication which will allow you to continue to grow your organization and avoid costly employment claims.