BY LIN GRENSING-POPHAL
With claims of sexual harassment being levied against prominent figures in Hollywood, sports and industry, community banks are wise to ensure that they’re taking proactive steps to keep harassment out of their workplace, communicating effectively so all understand what harassment entails and how to report infractions, and responding quickly and appropriate to any allegations. What steps should you be taking, proactively, to avoid these claims? Input from HR and legal experts.
Christopher W. Smithmyer, is a lawyer and strategic resource development coordinator at Brãv Online Conflict Management, a dispute resolution company. “The #MeToo movement is a result of bad social design for the last hundred or so years,” says Smithmyer. “Companies found it easier to hide instances of sexual abuse—as evidence in the Weinstein case and the Congressional slush fund—rather than deal with the problem. While the media is wringing their hands with the ‘what do we do’ mentality, the solution is quite simple. Have good corporate practices.” Those practices, says Smithmyer, should include:
- Training to define what sexual harassment is within your corporate environment.
- An HR person designated to deal with sexual harassment claims, with backup individuals to serve in this role if one of these people is the accused.
- Dealing with any claims quickly and openly. Without naming the party, Smithmyer says, a statement at a meeting such as “We have had a claim of sexual harassment and this is how we are dealing with it,” can serve to empower others to come forward rather than staying silent.
- Consider using a third party—e.g. conflict management service, or attorney—to deal with any claims.
Nance L. Schick is an employment attorney, arbitrator and mediator, and has also personally sued a prior employer for sexual harassment. It’s not enough just to have a policy, or to conduct training once a year, says Schick. “You will be more effective if you help employees identify sexual harassment and what causes it, how to report it, investigate it and take appropriate disciplinary action.”
Zero Tolerance: We Mean It!
Taking a strong stance against harassment is important and sends a message, loud and clear, about the community bank’s commitment to a harassment-free work environment. “We advise community banks to implement zero tolerance anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, which are adhered to in all circumstances,” says Kimberly Capadona, a partner at Archer, and advises clients on employment law and labor relations issues. These policies, she says, should be distributed to all employees through email, or hard copy—and employees should be asked to sign an acknowledge that the policy and received and reviewed.