September 25, 2022

Volume XII, Number 268


September 23, 2022

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September 22, 2022

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Politics Aside, Lessons on Sex, Power & the Workplace

When you look beyond the politics, the personalities, and the brouhaha surrounding the nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, there are valuable lessons for employers in their ongoing efforts to quell sexual harassment.

Even today, against the backdrop of #MeToo, harassment often goes unreported. Why?

Even though businesses reinforce anti-harassment policies, conduct training, and regularly investigate misconduct, employees hesitate to report bad behavior. Why?

The events of the last couple weeks offer some explanation. The first woman to make an accusation received death threats and suffered attacks on social media. She was compelled to move her family.

For employers, this is the first lesson: understanding the underlying psychology of sexual misconduct. The silence of potential victims stems from shame, embarrassment, fear, and the expectation that nothing will be done. Forward-thinking employers with this understanding have the edge by developing internal processes without judgment and with confidence.

The second lesson: a good process for investigating harassment is essential. That process respects and protects those who accuse and those who are accused.

Here are key principles in a good anti-harassment investigation:

1. Respect

  • Treat claims seriously; don’t jump to conclusions
  • Respect the accuser and accused
  • Respect the process

2. Confidentiality

  • Protect reputations
  • Protect the culture of organization

3. Proportionality

  • Gather key information privately
  • Be measured, but thorough

Employers and employees benefit from an environment in which complaints are taken seriously, and in which credibility and reputations are not destroyed before a proper investigation is complete.

In today’s never-ending news cycle, it appears politics have swamped principles. Our final lesson is that employers can and should do it better. Developing and maintaining a good internal process not only reflects an organization’s values, but also respects and protects the people who work there.

© 2022 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 270

About this Author

Jeanine Gozdecki, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, South Bend, Labor and Employment Law Attorney

Jeanine M. Gozdecki, a partner in the firm’s Labor & Employment Department, has spent 25 years representing, counseling and advocating for her business clients in virtually all aspects of the employment relationship. Ms. Gozdecki is recognized by the Best Lawyers in America for her employment law work and was recognized as "Lawyer of the Year" in 2013.

Ms. Gozdecki partners with her clients to develop strategies, assess risks and solve problems. She works behind the scenes to manage significant employment challenges, including...