In October, the #MeToo hashtag went viral and created a renewed focus on workplace harassment or assault. Not only are women coming out en masse to share their experiences, but also men have joined in. Within 48 hours, the hashtag was used more than one million times on Twitter and more than 12 million times within 24 hours on Facebook. What we’ve learned from this viral hashtag is that no one and no workplace is immune from harassment and assault.
Is your practice prepared?
If your practice doesn’t already have a plan in place for a harassment or assault situation, hopefully you are thinking about creating one now. Having a plan in place can help your practice abide by federal and state laws, protect your business and victims of harassment or assault. Here are some steps to create a balanced plan:
- Develop a policy that adheres to federal and state laws on all forms of unlawful harassment.
- Communicate this policy to all employees.
- Develop a complaint procedure in which an employee can raise a complaint with the opportunity to bypass the harasser.
- Include an anti-retaliation provision so employees know they will not be retaliated against.
- Though a complaint may need to be revealed during an investigation, the policy should also state the complaint will be kept confidential.
- All employees should be regularly trained – about every two years – on harassment prevention.
- Don’t require employees’ complaints to be written.
- Respond to complaints immediately with a thorough and unbiased investigation.
- Use disciplinary action for substantiated complaints and continue to monitor the harasser’s behavior and actions toward others.
- Create an environment where all employees are encouraged to speak up if they hear or see any unlawful behavior.
What if your employee posted a #MeToo?
You may see one of your employees post a #MeToo story. How should you respond to that? First, you should decipher if the post is about an experience at a past job or their current one. If the post is about a situation at your practice, you should use the harassment plan you’ve developed. Investigating complaints shows your employee making the claim that you support them as well as strive to operate a lawful workplace.
If the post is about a previous workplace, you can still offer support in different ways. You can communicate your workplace harassment policy to all your employees. You can also communicate medical and therapy benefits regarding harassment or assault to all your employees should they need them. If you suspect there was an assault, you can also communicate the contact information of your local authorities.
The bottom line is developing a balanced harassment policy will support your practice and employees. Whether their #MeToo story occurred at your workplace or another, simply showing employees you strive for a lawful and safe workplace goes further than you can ever know.