The steamroller of sexual assault and harassment claims have left no industry untouched in the MeToo era.
Allegations of sexual misconduct took down media giant Matt Lauer, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and dozens of others. In Detroit last week, WXYZ-TV anchor Malcom Maddox was temporarily taken off the air when his former colleague Tara Edwards sued the station in federal court, seeking $100 million in a civil rights case claiming years of harassment.
Edwards said it’s the stories of others who’ve been empowered to talk about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace that gave her “the courage to speak out. … I used to think no one would ever believe my story.”
The societal crescendo of truth telling has had another kind of ripple effect. It’s given a boost to human resources companies that investigate claims of sexual harassment and offer training to workers and their bosses about appropriate behavior.
“This is an important movement that is happening right now, and it is serious,” said Kristen Baker, vice president of Detroit-based HR Advantage Advisory. “From any company’s perspective, the need for training and proper reporting protocol is critical, not only to protect yourself but to educate employees and supervisors.”
She said her company has seen a 60 percent to 75 percent uptick in the number of requests for online or in-person anti-sexual-harassment training in the months since news of the Weinstein scandal broke, as well as companies requesting help from an outside entity to conduct independent sexual harassment investigations.
Baker and Jill Hannigan of AccessPoint offer this advice to companies and workers who are concerned about how doing business in the climate of MeToo can affect them:
1. Take complaints seriously and investigate: It’s important for employees of any company to speak up any time they feel harassed, Hannigan said, but it’s just as important for the company to respond immediately. The spotlight is shining most brightly now on famous women’s claims against male colleagues, but Baker said men can be sexually harassed, too, and are not to be dismissed.
2. Establish an anti-harassment policy: Companies must outline clearly what is and isn’t considered sexual harassment and ensure that information is given to employees, Hannigan said. Harassment can take many forms. It could be standing too close to a co-worker, touching another person, making lewd or suggestive jokes, sending sexual text messages or posts on social media, having a pinup on your desk or an inappropriate photo of a romantic partner. But the key hallmark of harassment, Baker said, is that it is always an unwanted interaction.
3. Get training, rinse, repeat: Once a company has established a policy, Hannigan and Baker say, regular training about that policy is vital.
4. Establish a reporting protocol: Outlined in any good sexual harassment policy is a procedure about how to report it, Baker said.
5. Use the Grandma Test: “You have to be mindful of your actions. Would you act or speak to your grandmother in that fashion?” says Hannigan. “If not, you probably shouldn’t be doing it to your co-worker.”