One of the most powerful social movements in U.S. history was born in the autumn of 2017 when social media cast a spotlight on the decades old crisis of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace. No longer swept under the rug, a firestorm of accusations erupted against powerful, high profile and entrenched executives in media, entertainment, finance, technology, F 500 companies, the judiciary, government, and academia. The #MeToo and #Timesup movement lit that flame.
Not surprisingly, there has been a recent jump in the reporting and prosecution of workplace sexual harassment claims. According to the EEOC:
- The EEOC filed 66 lawsuits challenging workplace harassment, 41 of which alleged sexual harassment. This is more than a 50 percent increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over FY 2017.
- Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by 13.6 percent from fiscal year 2017.
- The EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment through administrative enforcement and litigation in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.
What New Jersey Employers Should Do
These numbers indicate organizations will be increasingly vulnerable to allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, and we will likely see a rise in reported and filed claims in 2019. It is critical that employers have an effective plan in place to address and combat sexual harassment in the workplace, provide a safe inclusive work environment for all, and protect the organization and its reputation.
Three steps for an effective plan:
- Make Respect For All a Core Value
Stop sexual harassment before it starts by creating a culture of respect throughout your organization. An enforced zero tolerance policy will send a very strong accountability message and give employees the confidence to report or intervene when they observe questionable behavior.
- Develop and Institutionalize Policies, Training and Complaint Procedures
Your employee handbook should clearly document your anti-sexual harassment policy and differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and communications. There should be no gray areas regarding what is or is not sexual harassment. The handbook should also include instructions for lodging a complaint. Conduct mandatory yearly anti-sexual harassment training and document employee completion of that training.
Make sure you have an effective complaint handling procedure in place and the resources to comprehensively deal with claims, accusations and incidents.
- Have a Qualified and Impartial Investigation Team at the Ready
It is critical that any allegation of sexual harassment or misconduct be investigated promptly and correctly. An investigation, when done assiduously and in a timely manner can protect employers from liability in harassment and misconduct cases.
Outside counsel is your best choice. It is crucial that an investigation into a serious sexual harassment or misconduct incident be completely unbiased. In addition, attorney/client privilege protection is guaranteed. Company executives and managers should never be appointed to head up an internal investigation due to bias and the possibility they may be a witness to the incident.
Qualifications for workplace investigations counsel should include extensive experience and competence in representing and litigating labor and employment matters—employee/plaintiff and employer/defense, white collar and criminal investigations including witness interrogations, prosecution at the federal, state or local level, and employee misconduct and internal controls compliance.
While #MeToo has pushed sexual misconduct and discrimination matters to the forefront of today’s headlines, organizations must also know how to sidestep other forms of employee misconduct and civil rights violations. When allegations are made or claims filed despite an employer’s best efforts an impartial and thorough investigative team is just as critical.
It is critical that any allegation of sexual harassment or misconduct be investigated promptly, impartially, and comprehensively. An investigation, when done assiduously and in a timely manner can protect employers from liability in harassment and misconduct cases.
Keefe Law Firm, with its team of employment law attorneys, former prosecutors, and retired judges, is uniquely qualified to conduct investigations of complex, sensitive workplace matters and employee misconduct such as:
- Sexual harassment and misconduct
- Whistleblower claims
- Wrongful termination
- All forms of employee misconduct
- Wage and hour violations
- Fraud and embezzlement
- Internal controls compliance
For legal counsel regarding with a sexual misconduct matter Contact Us immediately.