The climate of the workplace is ever-changing, but a recent shift that was spurred by the #MeToo movement is making it extremely important for companies and employees to pay even closer attention. With numerous states enacting new laws and legislation to respond to the public spotlight on sexual harassment and assault, C-suite level employees should strive to understand the transformation taking place.
First, it’s important to understand what the #MeToo movement is and how it’s defined. While its name has many local and international alternatives, at its core the movement is fighting against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo initially went viral in late 2017 as a social media hashtag meant to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.
Recently, Jennifer Fay, attorney at law and partner at Goodwin Procter LLP, shared her expertise on the subject during a CFOLC webcast. Ms. Fay started the conversation by defining unlawful harassment, which she says is divided into two categories: (1) quid pro quo harassment and (2) hostile work-environment harassment.
She explains that these categories stem from the case law interpreting harassment claims and are helpful in understanding what behavior constitutes unlawful harassment. However, there is often an overlap between the two and the ultimate question is this: has the individual’s conduct altered the terms and conditions of employment and can such behavior be attributed to the employer and deemed unlawful? Even when the answer is yes, many cases are still difficult to prove in a court of law. This is one of the reasons the #MeToo movement has aimed to spark change across the country and it seems to be working. A number of states such as California, Delaware and New York, have adopted new laws causing nationwide awareness about the issue to skyrocket.
Fay explains that crucial behavioral shifts are happening within most organizations, including:
- Increased awareness: A significant increase in employers seeking to understand why
sexual harassment in the workplace is so pervasive.
- Changing attitudes: Victims are more likely to come forward and to be believed and companies are less likely to solve “the problem” by moving it somewhere else.
- Increased tolerance: More employees are suffering serious consequences as a result of engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace.
- Real public relations risks: The public is listening and if a business falters, it not only runs the risk of reputation damage in the media, but boycotts and the inability to hire good talent.
So with the #MeToo movement becoming part of the fabric of company culture, how can managers ensure they are responsible and sensitive to the issue? Fay has a few suggestions.
Eliminate harassment in the workplace by ensuring that inappropriate behavior or activity is always paid the proper attention; do not let any misbehavior go unchecked or ignored.
Model Good Behavior
Decline to participate in potentially offensive behaviors and address any issues when and if they do occur.
Make Smart Decisions
Remain professional in social settings, particularly when alcohol is involved. Refrain from drinking too much, making suggestive comments or flirting with junior employees or other coworkers.
Consult with human resources (HR) early and often. Don’t cover things up or assume
someone else will raise the issue.
Most importantly, management needs to remain accountable. Effective sexual harassment training and updated policies are key to ensuring everyone enjoys a safe and secure workplace. Make the commitment to take the appropriate disciplinary action against an employee even if they have engaged in unlawful harassment even if the behavior warrants immediate termination.
Last, but not least, get a buy-in from the top. This means every manager demonstrates their understanding of the policies the organization has in place to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
About Our Speaker
Jennifer Fay is a partner in Goodwin’s Labor + Employment Practice and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee. She is also a founding member of the firm’s Trade Secrets & Restrictive Covenants Practice. Jennifer Fay was recently interviewed in a three-part series on Executive Responsibilities in Harassment & Assault. It’s a candid Q&A on dealing with definitions, reporting structure and liability from a senior management and board perspective. Click Below to Watch!
About The CFO Leadership Council
The CFO Leadership Council offers both live & online programs that feature expert panels and interactive sessions that drive meaningful conversation and leadership development among our membership. Recordings of this and similar CFOLC webcasts are made available to our current CFOLC Premium & Virtual members. Learn about our three-tiered membership options visit www.cfolc.com.
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