Sexual harassment complaints are good for your business

By Sara Forte February 19, 201819 February 2018

Sexual harassment complaints are good for your business
Photo by Headway on Unsplash

 

In my employment law practice, I work with employers, including lawyers and law firms, to implement harassment policies.  One client said, “But Sara, if I have a policy about harassment, won’t that encourage employees to make complaints?”  He really did not want to have to deal with complaints.  Complaints can be messy and emotional.

Sexual harassment complaints are good for your business and it benefits your business to have a policy that encourages employees to bring them forward. Why? Because sexual harassment is everywhere. If you had any doubt about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, I hope that was extinguished by #METoo. 

Short-term avoidance leads to long-term pain and turnover

If we accept that sexual harassment is pervasive, it follows that sexual harassment could be happening in your law firm.  If sexual harassment is happening, you want to know about it so that you have the opportunity to deal with it.  It is much easier to investigate, and even to defend allegations of sexual harassment close to the time of the events. If there is no mechanism to raise complaints, they may get buried only to resurface years, or even decades later.  With the passage of time, evidence deteriorates and it is much harder for the organization and individuals involved to respond.

Some well-worn alternatives to bringing sexual harassment complaints are medical leaves or quitting. Most law firms recognize that turnover carries significant cost.  An employee who brings forward a sexual harassment complaint would probably become a turnover statistic had they not made the complaint.

Speaking out stops patterns of harassment and reflects and reinforces trust

When employees who are sexually harassed leave without reporting the incident, there is a good chance that the person within your organization who harassed them will do it again to someone else.  When I act for employees who have been sexually harassed, or in the context of neutral investigation work, it is common for harassers to be known throughout the organization.  I hear stories from women about warning new coworkers to avoid being alone with certain male colleagues, or to steer clear of them at the holiday party.  This is toxic for organizations, but if the information stays in whispers, those who have to power to investigate and address the problem don’t hear it.

When complaints of sexual harassment are brought forward internally, it is a sign of a healthy organization and culture.  A complaint means that employee feels safe and supported. They trust the organization and that they trust the system.  The organization then has a chance to reinforce that trust by arranging for a neutral investigation and a thoughtful and respectful outcome.

Sexual harassment complaints are not easy to deal with.  They can be messy and emotional. But the bottom line is they are good for your business.

Sara Forte has been practicing exclusively as a labour & employment lawyer since 2004, and is the founder of Forte Law, based in Surrey, BC.  Sara frequently speaks and writes on law practice and employment law topics, and is on the executive of the CBABC Women Lawyers Forum.

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