Vianei Lopez Braun has worked as an employment lawyer for more than 25 years. She is a shareholder with Decker Jones P.C. in Fort Worth.
If you work at a good, healthy company and feel like you’re a victim of harassment, you should have the ability to look at the policy and decide: I’m going to go to human resources or call a hotline, or—if it’s a small company with no HR—I’m going to go to the company owner or president. A good policy should have multiple avenues for reporting.
News about high-profile individuals with a long history of bad behavior has taught everyone that it’s not worth it to keep a sexual harasser on, even if they’re very powerful or a high producer. Ultimately, the damage is too great. It isn’t just legal liability, but adverse media attention. On top of that, if harassment is tolerated, you see higher turnover, lower productivity, and damage to the business’s reputation.
The recent #MeToo conversations have definitely shone a spotlight on the issue. In past years, companies did training to check a box; to say that they don’t want to be found liable if there ever is a problem. The company just wanted to be able to say it had tried to address the issue. Now, more companies are saying that they truly want to eliminate workplace harassment, and that they want to be strategic about making a real change in corporate culture.
The most important thing is to have multiple avenues for reporting. From time to time, you see unfortunate situations where the policy says report to the director of HR, and they have no credibility within the organization, or they are the actual harasser. You need a policy with multiple ways to come forward. That requires training that really encourages people to come forward and make reports, and to not look the other way. So if you’re in the cubicle next to someone who’s being harassed by her supervisor, and she’s too shy to come forward, you as the next-door neighbor should feel the need to come forward and make sure that something changes.
When you do have training, it’s important to have a CEO or leader introduce it and say, we have a real commitment to a respectful and professional workplace, and we take this very seriously. In years past, when I’d get hired to do harassment training, people who had to be there would be there, but somehow the C-suite would get exempted. I’m encouraged now to see the upper-level executives sitting in on the training, asking me questions, participating, and really showing the organization that the commitment to change comes from the top.
To see resources about female mentorship, getting involved in local issues, and what to do if you experience sexual harassment, read here.
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