How workplace harassment can be prevented

May 16, 2018
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

From an article in the Globe and Mail: The #MeToo movement has led to an explosion of sexual-harassment revelations in recent months. Strikingly, many allegations have involved individuals at the highest levels of their organizations, and companies are facing increasing public pressure to respond swiftly.

Organizations have a moral imperative to take steps to prevent workplace harassment - and address the situation appropriately if allegations do arise. No longer can sexual harassment be endured or tolerated.

And as #MeToo continues to shine a much-needed light into the dark corners of workplace harassment, it's important for executives and corporate boards to understand their legal obligations as well. Failing to take appropriate action can potentially result in litigation, as well as damage to morale, productivity, reputation, and the strategic direction and prospects of a company.

Directors are obliged to diligently oversee management and to act in the best interests of the company. In the wake of #MeToo, investors are looking to hold boards accountable for lost share value caused by failures to address workplace harassment. In November, 2017, the Delaware Court of Chancery approved a US$90-million settlement in an investor lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch and other key directors at 21st Century Fox for lost share value allegedly caused by the directors' failure to address long-standing issues of sexual misconduct involving the company's CEO and other senior individuals.

Executives and corporate boards can and should play an active role in eliminating conditions that could give rise to sexual harassment and ensuring that processes are in place to respond quickly if a situation does arise. Being prepared and pro-active is key. Here are some suggestions:

Set the tone from the top

Corporate leaders should be personally committed to promoting and creating a respectful and inclusive workplace that does not tolerate harassment and discrimination. Corporate leaders need to inform themselves about what the company's culture is like on the ground. Boards must be prepared to take swift action if there are signs that management is failing to address issues, whether isolated or systemic. Consider tying executive compensation to metrics that promote inclusion and a harassment-free workplace. Ensure that violations of the company's harassment and discrimination policy constitute "for cause" termination.

Have robust whistle-blower, harassment and discrimination policies

Ensure everyone is aware of the policies. The harassment and discrimination policy should be explicit as to what conduct is inappropriate and won't be tolerated. The policies should be easily available to employees, and reviewed and updated annually. All employees should know how to make a complaint under the policies and to whom.

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