If you think that your company is immune to such charges, think again. According to a 2017 NBC/WSJ poll,48% of women say they were victims of sexual, verbal or physical harassment at their companies. Additionally, 10% of men have similar claims according to a different survey.
As if that’s not enough, the top two industries where sexual harassment ranks highest are business and then sales/marketing. Chances are that if there’s been no allegation of sexual harassment at your company thus far, a claim may not be too far away. Be prepared.
What Is There To Prepare For?
That’s a fair question because an allegation could come from either sex. The reality is that no matter which gender raises the claim, they should both be treated equally and seriously. Not to take such a claim gravely can result in serious damage to your product line, especially if it’s directed to them and your company’s reputation.
If your company doesn’t yet have a policy on harassment, draw one up after reaching consensus among those who would be most affected. The obvious departments are human resources and legal, but marketing/communications and public relations must also have a seat at the table. If your company is organized with workers being members of a union, you should seriously consider having a union representative at the meetings as well.
As weird as it may seem, one of the first things to do is to create a form for submitting claims of harassment. Roll this out at the same time you announce your harassment policy.
Might such an announcement and form encourage claims? Possibly. But it might well serve as a warning flag to anyone with the intent to harass and even stop some unwanted behavior. Also publicize the company’s position on harassment and the consequences if an employee is guilty of this.
Consider a workshop about it as well. While people can generally define some forms of harassment, there are other areas of behavior that raise more questions. We saw this recently with a presidential candidate.
Claim Filed. Now What?
As indicated in earlier articles, you should have the basis of a crisis communications plan in place. Ideally, it would be nice to have received the claim first, before word leaks out to the media. That’s usually not the case today.
In either case, you must respond quickly to defuse any potentially false or fake information. Unless the person(s) accused of harassment admits to doing this, you first need to assure the media that the company takes such allegations seriously, is investigating, and will take appropriate action.
As is the case with other crises, keep your employees informed while leaving out the names of both parties. They’ll likely get them through the grapevine but it’s not your duty to reveal identities at this stage. Explain that the rights of both parties must be respected until the issue is resolved. Here again, restate the company position on harassment.
Keep your key publics informed every step of the way to minimize rumors and speculation. And be sure to reinforce your message that your company takes such allegations seriously and does not condone such behavior.