The Weinstein Factor

Added On: 8th November 2017

The Weinstein Factor

The recent media revelations about Harvey Weinstein and other high profile figures have brought the issue of sexual harassment well and truly into the limelight.

We are already starting to see an impact from this at a much more local level, with staff feeling empowered to speak out where they might not have done so previously and requiring their employers to tackle the issues raised. Consequently, alarm bells should be ringing in every organisation to think about what steps they have taken to ensure that sexual – or any other type of - harassment doesn’t happen in their workplace.

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour that is intended to, or has the effect of, making someone feel intimidated, humiliated, degraded or offended, where the reason for such treatment is due to their sex. It can affect men as well as women and can result from a single, one-off incident or a series of incidents on ongoing behaviour. It is a form of sexual discrimination and companies are frequently held liable for the acts of their employees where one employee harasses another.

When the harasser is a senior or key employee, tackling the issue can be difficult but this is exactly why it has to be tackled – not doing so is likely to result in compensation awards potentially being higher. Also, the negative publicity can be significantly worse. Look at what has happened to the Weinstein business if you need proof of this!

Organisations can avoid liability for their employees' actions only if they can show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring. This would include having an equal opportunities policy in place and training managers on how to deal withany allegations and how to tackle any inappropriate behaviour that they may see or be made aware of, even if a formal complaint has not yet been made. It would also include training staff on the standards expected of them. The defence is only available if the preventative steps have been taken before any allegation arises, so you can't try to retrofit after a problem has arisen.

BUT any actions have to be more than just ‘ticking a box’. Having a written policy isn’t enough; organisations have to be able to demonstrate that they live by the their policy and that any breaches, or potential breaches, that arise despite their best efforts are dealt with effectively.

Now is the time to take an honest look at where your organisation stands in relation to these issues, and if necessary, to take steps to rectify any shortcomings. It may not be easy, but it will definitely be worth it. It isn’t just about avoiding allegations and claims, but also about fostering a working environment that people are comfortable in. The payback from which is that it will help to ensure that you get the best from your staff and that you retain key members of your teams.