Printed from

Editorial: Harassment paradigm shift

Posted On: Dec. 4, 2017 1:00 AM CST

The worlds of business, entertainment and politics appear to be facing a new reality in terms of dealing with sexual harassment inside and outside the workplace, and companies need to adapt their policies and practices to reflect that change.

Beginning with allegations concerning the behavior of Harvey Weinstein, the former co-chairman of Weinstein Co., the stream of reports detailing harassment, abuse and sexual violence in numerous industries illustrates the pervasiveness of the problem.

The public shaming of so many well-known figures and the willingness of women to come forward to tell their often-shocking accounts has made sexual harassment an even more serious problem and potential liability that risk managers and insurers must deal with.

And as the holiday party season gets into swing, along with the associated free access to alcohol in workplace settings, the issue becomes even more urgent.

Many employers have longstanding policies in place to prevent sexual harassment, but now is the time to assess whether the regular training they offer managers and other employees is of the “check-the-box” variety to comply with regulations and laws or whether it’s an effective deterrent.

For example, online programs may be a quick and efficient way to train employees, but they may not provide enough interaction or gravity to effectively get the anti-harassment message across.

In-person training may be a better option where practicable; but more importantly, managers should be constantly on the lookout for harassing behavior in the office and at work functions, take appropriate and proportional action when they spot troubling behavior, and generally ensure that their organization’s culture is respectful and professional. In addition, companies should have clear reporting protocols in place even — or perhaps especially — for the most senior people in an organization.

Once allegations of sexual harassment are filed, employers must make sure they take them seriously and treat the alleged victims with respect. One of the issues that has become clear to all over the past couple of months is that women are often afraid or unwilling, for a range of reasons, to file formal harassment complaints; and when they do, their allegations often are treated with skepticism. While harassment often takes place in private and is hard to prove, as we have witnessed, the volume of complaints against individuals in many cases bear out the veracity of the accusations made by those brave enough to step forward first.

In addition, organizations should have formal procedures in place to investigate accusations that are fair to both sides and free from influence from other areas of the organization. In many cases, that may lead to extra expenses as outside counsel is called in, but the seriousness of the issue should outweigh concerns over costs.