Perhaps not since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas headlines has the workplace been so charged with potential and actual reports of sexual misconduct. Just before those events, in 1991, I’d taken my first law office job in a small labor and employment law firm. So enormous was the media attention over the hearings, it set the path for my entire career.
With the facility of social media, the workplace is now facing a fresh, unprecedented wave of sexual harassment headlines, complaints and legal scrutiny.
Some of the most proactive advice to give employers and employees to help them address workplace misconduct is:
- Make it well known to employees and co-workers that the resolution door is open and the opportunity to know their concerns is welcome.
- Relate by sharing you both want the same thing – a workplace that is safe and does not interfere with the ability to work and succeed.
- Provide or utilize a means of putting people in touch with someone who has authority to take the matter seriously and do something about it – be it in person or by way of an anonymous hotline.
- Provide or make use of user-friendly contact options, such as identifying at least one female and one male to whom to report concerns.
- Follow through and follow up. This kind of communication and demonstrated commitment to accountability can make or break efforts to avoid, deescalate or resolve conflicts. It may not be possible to share specific personnel action, but book-ending within a given time frame with general acknowledgements, at least, says the concerns raised are being taken seriously — to the reporter, as well as the alleged wrongdoer.
- Consider involving a third-party employment law neutral in the process, such as a mediator, diversity/anti-discrimination trainer or investigator. There are a variety of ways to approach workplace issues, and it’s never too late or too early to address them.
In other words, as Chicago Booth’s Linda E. Ginzel says, “leverage your strengths,” such as your respect for communication and reporting.
These messages and methods are probably already a part of your workplace or one you manage. It may be as simple as engaging in or highlighting them to maximize the benefits of the workplace-level approach, and protect a job, human resources and other valuable investments.
On behalf of yourself, an employer or employee, please contact me anytime to discuss how a neutral can be of help.