More #MeToo advice for New Hampshire employers
The movement shines a light on the unfortunate realities that can exist in the workplace
Not too long ago, the names of certain celebrities might cause one to think of a certain show, company or political party. Today, those same names can generate a very different reaction, thanks to the power of social media.
The #MeToo movement is an anti-sexual harassment and assault campaign that was ignited in response to the harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October. Generally, an individual will post #MeToo on social media to acknowledge that he or she has experienced sexual harassment or assault and condemn such conduct.
There is no denying that the #MeToo movement has benefited society by shining a light on the unfortunate realities that can exist in the workplace.
With that said, the movement can cause uncertainties for employers. For example, does a #MeToo post about a particular person raise concerns for a past or current employer? Does a #MeToo post qualify as a formal complaint an employer must act on? Is an employer obligated to initiate an investigation if the employer comes across an employee’s #MeToo post about another employee?
Although human resources should not “friend” employees on social media simply to monitor their posts, such information can often find its way to the employer.
When in doubt, an employer should start by meeting with the employee who posted the #MeToo message to ensure that his or her work environment is safe and professional. There is always the chance that such a meeting might lead to an investigation, or the meeting might confirm that the #MeToo post was about a past employer.
Either way, it is always better to be safe – and proactive – than sorry.
In light of recent events, the following three steps are proactive measures that an employer can take immediately to provide the safest environment possible for its employees:
• An employer should ensure that it has an up-to-date anti-harassment policy. The anti-harassment policy should not be limited to sexual harassment. Rather, it should prohibit harassment against any protected class. Additionally, the policy should reflect current reporting procedures. For example, the policy should not tell employees to file a complaint with the director of human resources, if such a position is vacant or the title has changed. The policy should also clearly identify what constitutes a “complaint” of harassment.
• Ensure that your employees have access to the policy. Your employees should not have to contact HR for this information. Instead, it should be included in the company’s employee handbook, which should be provided to employees upon employment. You should also ensure that the policy is placed in an area that the employees have access to, such as a break room or an “employee only” section of the company website.
• Provide your employees with anti-harassment training. Unfortunately, employers often schedule such training every few years, even though the laws have changed and/or there have been several new hires. In this situation, there may be a handful of employees who have never participated in the company’s anti-harassment training. As a result, holding anti-harassment training sessions annually should be a priority. Not only does annual training provide employees with consistent education about appropriate behavior in the workplace, relying upon the latest updates to the law, but also it creates an open dialogue between employees and Human Resources. In the end, this is one of the most crucial components of a safe work environment.
#MeToo reflects the unfortunate reality that more must be done to protect the dignity and rights of all employees. All employers should be encouraged to provide a safe environment for each and every employee.
Hilary Holmes Rheaume, an attorney at Bernstein Shur in Manchester, can be reached at 603-665-8839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.