As #MeToo turns five, it’s clear that the movement has generated an increased awareness about sexual harassment and assault. And as countless numbers of people shared their stories, one thing became all-too-clear: a lot of that harassment happened at work.
That truth probably strikes fear in the heart of HR pros everywhere. First and foremost, no one wants that kind of misconduct happening on their watch.
And second, HR pros know that their company relies on them to ensure it remains in compliance with federal law. Furthermore, the reality of the situation is that Title VII violations can lead to hefty payouts.
Costly mistakes: Sexual harassment payouts in 2022
This year alone, companies have shelled out thousands – and in some cases millions – of dollars to resolve such harassment claims. For example:
- On April 4, a national fast-food franchisee paid $1.5 million to settle a class-action sex-based harassment suit involving about 100 current and former female employees.
- In mid-June, an HVAC company paid $361,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the EEOC on behalf of seven current and former female employees.
- In late June, the owner/operator of 10 McDonald’s franchises in Vermont and New Hampshire agreed to pay $1.6 million to resolve an EEOC lawsuit that alleged employees were subjected to sex-based harassment at work.
- On Sept. 16, Lowe’s, a national hardware and home improvement company, agreed to pay $700,000 to resolve a sexual harassment complaint brought by the EEOC on behalf of three female employees.
- In October, a jury awarded $251,711 for damages and back pay to a Georgia woman who sued to allege she was fired from Sam’s Club in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment.
Latest #MeToo fallout: CBS, ex-CEO pay eight-figure settlement
And if you haven’t heard, the most recent #MeToo-related bombshell was just announced on Nov 2.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office secured a $30.5 million settlement from CBS and its former president and CEO Leslie Moonves for “concealing sexual assault allegations against Mr. Moonves, misleading investigators about those allegations and insider trading.”
The settlement agreement also requires CBS to:
- Revise its sexual harassment policies and practices.
- Provide appropriate training to HR and staff that focuses on sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and retaliation.
- Establish and implement protocols for HR investigations.
- Implement appropriate channels to report sexual harassment.
- Set metrics to evaluate the advancement of women in the company.
- Conduct a climate survey of its employees for the next three years, and report those findings to the Office of the Attorney General (AOG).
- Submit bi-annual compliance reports to the AOG.
An ounce of prevention: Making the most of DEI
In this post-#MeToo world, nearly every HR pro has made sexual harassment prevention a top priority.
This probably won’t come as a shock, but can you guess what some companies ditched first? Those old-school, hour long-training sessions that did little more than define sexual harassment, according to one of our expert contributors.
Nowadays, the savviest HR pros are shifting their training methods and expanding the list of topics covered. And because sexual harassment is a cultural issue, it fits perfectly into conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). As a result, a more modern approach to sexual harassment training includes common DEI themes, such as:
- Conversations to educate employees about unconscious bias.
- Game plans that outline ways to practice intentional inclusion.
- Strategies to teach — and empower — bystanders to speak up when they witness sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Open discussions that include specific examples of microaggressions.
Last month, the U.S. Surgeon general issued new guidance on mental health at work that echoes this concept. (Spoiler alert: In the first section focusing on workplace safety, the guidance urges companies to “operationalize DEI norms, policies, and programs” to promote workers’ mental health and well-being.)
3 keys to DEI success
During a presentation at the BambooHR Virtual Summit 2022, workplace culture consultant, author and executive advisor on diversity strategies Stacey Gordon provided 3 keys to DEI success in an organization:
- Certainty: Gain certainty that employee inclusion and belonging are important and attainable for your organization. It’ll take a willingness to change longstanding processes, policies and procedures that may not be relevant anymore because of the ways the workforce is evolving.
- Commitment: Understand the value of “visible, visceral” leader commitment to DEI, especially from your CEO. Getting the C-suite’s buy-in is crucial. What are you doing to help them get there? The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 86% of employees expect their CEO to publicly speak out on societal issues like the impact of COVID, job automation, local community issues, etc. In addition, 68% of workers say CEOs should step in when the government doesn’t fix a societal problem.
- Expectations: Address the expectations of your workforce regarding DEI and your workplace culture. Whether it’s gender equity, pay transparency or something else related to DEI issues, “stakeholders expect your leaders to be able to handle DEI in the workplace,” Gordon commented.