What Does #MeToo Mean for HR? A Challenge and an Opportunity

By Sonya Rosenberg, Partner – Neal Gerber Eisenberg

#MeToo has turned into a powerful movement that continues to gain momentum and affect public discourse on sexual harassment.  Although #MeToo went viral following The New Yorker’s expose of Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the movement has been underway for some time.  Earlier in 2017, a number of harassment scandals, including at Fox News and Uber, made headlines around the country.  Employers, for their part, have been paying attention – and taking action.  In the past few months alone, numerous prominent heads of companies, senior company leaders, politicians and judges have been terminated from their positions or have resigned as a result of sexual harassment allegations made by their employees.

For the HR professional, the recent developments present both a challenge and an opportunity.  The challenge is the increased scrutiny that HR leaders are now under, after decades of little to no oversight of their work from business counterparts.  Many HR leaders are finding themselves on the receiving end of various questions and challenges about their companies’ anti-harassment policies, practices and specific issues that have come up in their workplaces.  C-suite leaders want to know that the policy and practices in place are legally compliant and effective, that management and employees have been properly trained, and that any complaints and concerns are handled swiftly.

At the same time, the recent unprecedented attention to the issue of sexual harassment has given HR leaders the long-sought opportunity to be proactive in this area like never before.  This attention may be accompanied by added support and financial resources to help prevent and correct problematic conduct.  As a result, many HR leaders are actively reviewing their policies and their reporting and investigation procedures, scheduling mandatory anti-harassment training, and partnering with legal counsel to ensure their processes are compliant.  Complaints are more likely to be addressed promptly and thoughtfully through effective investigation and tailored corrective action.  Similarly, company leaders and employees who engage in harassing conduct are now more likely to be subject to serious repercussions.

Fortunately for HR leaders, the #MeToo movement does not change best practices for preventing and correcting sexual harassment in the workplace.  HR leaders should work with legal counsel to ensure that:

(a) their employer has a well-worded anti-harassment policy with appropriate definition, mandatory reporting, investigation, anti-retaliation and disciplinary components;

(b) the company’s managers and other employees receive regular training on the policy and the mandatory reporting procedures; and

(c) all complaints are taken seriously, promptly and thoroughly investigated, and if necessary, remedied through appropriate disciplinary and/or other corrective action.  Effective documentation practices are integral to all of these best practices.

The #MeToo movement should be viewed as an opportunity to address concerns with existing practices and to effectively correct any problematic conduct. HR leaders should use this opportunity to affect real, positive change within their workplaces.

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