United States: Is Harvey In Your Workplace? What Employers Should Do In The Wake Of The Weinstein Scandal A Q&A With Katherine Dudley Helms And Brian Mcdermott

Last Updated: December 7 2017
Article by Jansen A. Ellis

Jansen Ellis: Why do you think this is happening now?

Kathy Helms: Some of these things have gone on for a very long time and perhaps, had the conditions been right, the reports may have been made earlier. Had the current conditions not been right, these stories may not have come out. Also, I think there is safety in numbers so once the water began to seep through, the dam just broke. Perhaps the accused crossed the wrong people or no longer had the power to abuse people. I don't necessarily believe that the people who actually engage in this type of behavior are smart enough to hide it. I just think they are powerful enough generally not to suffer the consequences—at least for a time.

Brian McDermott: This is about power and it can happen anywhere, in any industry. I do, however, believe it could be possible that this is the beginning of a movement that can change behavior going forward. That, of course, would be an extremely positive development.

JE: How do you prevent sexual harassment when it comes from the top of an organization?

KH: If there is a Board of Directors involved, it is their responsibility to appropriately address any such allegations/problems. The most difficult situations are when it is the owner of the company or a family member who is alleged to have harassed an employee(s). This type of situation can get very complicated. However, it is not up to the employee to protect herself/himself. No matter who the alleged perpetrator may be, it is up to the company to investigate and promptly and appropriately address the situation.

JE: How do you ensure that your harassment policy is more than just a piece of paper?

KH: A policy that is merely on paper is simply evidence against a company in a trial. All companies should make sure they have a comprehensive and effective harassment policy, educate all employees (periodically) on the policy, make certain that employees understand how to report harassment, and listen to employees who bring claims to determine if changes need to be made in the policy. I tell my clients that having a policy alone gets the company no points, and they better be able to articulate how that policy addressed the situation at hand.

BM: The best employers are able to demonstrate that they have a culture of compliance and of encouraging employees to report issues and concerns. They can also "walk the walk" in that they have an investigation procedure that is robust and can help weed out bad actors.

JE: What do you suggest employers do now to avoid a similar scandal in their workplace?

KH: Pay attention! We keep hearing in many of these reports of late that "everyone" was aware of what was happening. Pay attention to rumors and investigate and take action when appropriate. During the course of an investigation, I often hear that the alleged harasser was just kidding, and the person who was allegedly harassed laughed at the sexually explicit jokes, etc. The alleged victim may or may not have acted amused, but more often than not, the alleged victim is adamant during the investigation that the jokes or other actions were unwelcome at the time and he or she felt that this was obvious. The rule of thumb is that unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature do not belong in the workplace—whether in a joking manner or otherwise.

BM: Work to get out ahead of any problems. Show compliance through leadership and communication to employees—for example, by communicating the message that bad behavior is not consistent with the company's culture and will not be tolerated.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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