By Christine Webb
The #MeToo Movement (see After #MeToo, What’s Next?) started this past fall in Hollywood. It spread from Hollywood to women in all industries in the United States and the world. This movement revealed a culture of silence that had been festering and lead business leaders to wonder “do I have this problem in my organization?”
The victims of the movement are shining a light on everything from inappropriate language to sexual assault. It’s too soon to tell what effect the movement has had outside of Hollywood, but with increased awareness and attention, an increase in lawsuits is very likely. It’s not too soon to protect your company. Here are some helpful steps to ensure the protection and close the loopholes that could lead to lawsuits for your organization.
Step 1: Ensure your Employment Practices Liability (EPL) limits are sufficient.
EPL is generally found as a stand-alone policy, however, some programs can add the coverage by endorsement. A standard General Liability policy will exclude all related claims. The right limit and deductible for your company depend on employee count, industry and company assets. Speak with your Horton team to help determine the right limit for your organization. Ensure this policy is in place before investigating if your organization has any #MeToo related concerns because any claims you are aware of before the policy is put in place will be excluded. If you have employees, you need this coverage.
Step 2: Avoid having an EPL claim in the first place.
Your company will be better protected at trial if appropriate preventive measures are in place and complaints are treated consistently and aggressively. Some important considerations:
- Update all sexual harassment and dating in the workplace policies for the tech age.
- Ensure that the policies detail the related disciplinary action.
- Provide effective annual mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees.
- Hold all employees, but especially supervisors and managers, accountable for a respectful workplace. (see Protecting Your Business from Supervisors’ Abuse of Power – Hiring & Firing – Webinar)
- Verify that your HR team (or anyone employees would report a problem too) knows how to handle and escalate such situations.
Step 3: Don’t forget the shop or the warehouse.
It’s hard enough to find and retain good employees today. Women can be a great addition to your blue collar workforce. However, blue-collar women have their own hashtag, #WhatAboutUs. These women don’t always have the numbers to feel confident coming forward, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem. Just recently Ford Apologizes for Sexual Harassment at Chicago Factories.
Step 4: Add Sexual Harassment to your Crisis Response Plan.
Have a plan in place for sexual harassment allegations including the identification of a 3rd party attorney that can be present in any discussions with employees regarding harassment and a plan for a press release. If you have an Employment Practices Liability policy, many policies include a free attorney hotline to help navigate through the early stages, including the recommendation of legal counsel.
We are attempting to tackle a large issue in a small format. Women are not the only class of employees that you need to keep in mind when fostering a respectful work environment. Additionally, reforming a culture with issues into a respectful workplace is extremely challenging. Your company can’t afford to continue on without addressing these issues- in addition to the costs of these suits and allegations, your culture is the most important thing you have. Good employees and a good reputation are too valuable to lose. The Horton Group has a number of resources to help get you started. Reach out to your team for more information.
Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.