The allegations of abuse have been staggering. The numbers of abused victims are astounding. Are these problems limited to the film and television industries?
Ask any working woman, and the answer to that question is no. Although this is the 21st Century, sexual harassment is still prevalent in many of our work places.
The statistics vary but there is credible evidence that approximately one half of the female workforce has been sexually harassed in some way during the past two years. Why is this continuing? Why can’t companies make their work place safer and more comfortable for women?
The women who finally put a stop to Mr. Weinstein’s behavior deserve our thanks and the credit for beginning the changes that need to take place in the work place. The question is, what can business owners do to put a stop to harassment?
One simple solution is to make sure the company has an up to date, effective policy against harassment and discrimination. That policy needs to be clear and understandable. It needs to be available to all employees in a convenient manner. (It does little good to have a policy that is stuck on page 98 of the business handbook – with the handbook only being available in the supervisor’s office.)
This policy needs to explain how to report violations. That reporting method has to be user friendly, so the victim of the harassment is not afraid to make a report. And also, to give fair warning to all employees, the policy needs to clearly outline what are the specific consequences for violating the policy.
Once the company has a clear, understandable policy, with specific consequences, the company must provide education and training on the policy. Education is critical. There are simply too many “old school” men whose ideas of what is acceptable in the work place is simply outdated and objectionable. “Locker room talk” is simply not acceptable, anywhere.
The education and training needs to be required for every employee from the CEO to the most recent hire. The company needs to adopt sanctions for those who do not attend, such as withholding the next pay check until the training is completed.
Finally, the policy needs to be strictly and swiftly enforced. If a harassment claim is made, the company should immediately contact its lawyer to start an investigation – preferably with an outside consultant. The company needs to thoroughly, and fairly, investigate the allegations. If a claim is substantiated, appropriate discipline must be enforced. Decisive enforcement of the policy is critical. Finally, it is important to preserve all evidence related to the claim and the investigation.
It is time to improve the work place for all of us.