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Ten Tips for Navigating the Post-#MeToo Liability Landscape

Taryn Abrahams

Ten Tips for Navigating the Post-#MeToo Liability Landscape

The #MeToo movement highlighted sexual harassment in the workplace. Harassment is costly on many levels. Just one harassment claim can have a huge ripple effect on a company. The impact on an organization’s reputation, morale, retention and engagement, and turnover cannot be understated. Of course, there is also the potential legal liability for unlawful conduct.

To mitigate these risks, companies should follow best practices for reporting and handling of such claims.

Here are some key strategies to consider:

Develop and Update Policies

Review and revise your company's policies on harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Ensure they are comprehensive, up to date, and compliant with applicable laws. Policies should be updated at least once a year, especially if work models have changed. Regularly update and reinforce training to ensure employees understand their rights and responsibilities.

Ensure Policy Awareness

According to a recent study, 60 percent of employees do not read their employee handbook. Therefore, it is important to communicate firm policies clearly to all employees and provide regular training on their contents. Ensuring that all employees understand the expectations of the company is key. One suggestion is to have employees sign off that they read the employee handbook.

Encourage Reporting

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, only 10 percent of victims of harassment report the incident to HR and/or a company leader. To foster a workplace where employees will report incidents of harassment promptly, establish multiple reporting channels, such as anonymous hotlines or trusted HR representatives, and ensure employees are aware of these options. Invest in anti-harassment training so that employees understand the internal and external reporting procedures, as well as their rights and responsibilities. Having zero reports of sexual harassment does not always mean harassment is not occurring; it could be an indication people are afraid to come forward or they may not know to whom to report the issue.

Lead by Example

Foster a culture of accountability and respect from top to bottom. Ensure company leaders demonstrate appropriate behavior and actively promote a respectful work environment. Implement a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and promptly address any that arises.

Establish Anti-Retaliation Measures

Prohibit retaliation against employees who report harassment or participate in investigations. Communicate this commitment clearly and take swift action to address any retaliation allegations.

Regularly Audit and Review

Conduct periodic audits of your organization's practices, policies, and procedures to identify any gaps or areas for improvement. At the federal and state levels, there are legal guidelines and regulations aimed at mitigating the risk of harassment in the workplace. These guidelines are designed to protect employees from various forms of harassment, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments.

Comply with Both Federal and State Law

Some of the key federal laws and regulations include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disability Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Importantly, many states have their own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws that provide further protections for employees. These state laws may cover additional protected classes and often have their own procedures for filing complaints. It is essential for both employers and employees to be aware of all legal guidelines.

Encourage Open Dialogue

Advance open communication and dialogue about workplace issues. Provide opportunities for employees to express concerns, offer feedback, or suggest improvements to the organization's policies and practices. While Zoom and other web conferencing platforms provide a virtual space for communication and interaction, it does not prevent individuals from engaging in inappropriate or harassing behavior.

Consult with Counsel and Other Professionals

Seek guidance from employment law professionals to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. They can provide tailored advice and help you navigate specific challenges or concerns.

Document Everything

Maintain accurate records of all complaints, investigations, and actions taken. This documentation can serve as evidence of your organization's commitment to addressing harassment and can be vital in defending against potential litigation.

By implementing these best practices, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to creating a safe and respectful workplace, while reducing the risk of litigation in the post-#MeToo era. Prioritize prevention, education, and a culture of respect as key components to fostering a positive work environment for all employees.