Major cases of sexual harassment have broken in the news with the issues at Fox News and Uber. According to Fortune.com, Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, has paid $45 million in sexual harassment settlements since mid-2016. But sexual harassment claims don’t just happen in big corporations. It can happen at small businesses, the local mom and pop down the road, and even at nonprofits. Unlike major corporations that can better handle the big payouts that these civil cases award, for small businesses and nonprofits, it can close the doors for good.
While many articles will tell you what to do, we’ve seen so many cases go wrong, we are going to highlight what not to do.
Don’t do anything: If you’re in any sort of organizational leadership and hear a claim of sexual harassment by an employee, doing absolutely nothing is not the way to go. You send the message that it doesn’t matter. That it’s just corporate culture and the victim doesn’t matter. They are letting you know because it’s your legal responsibility to act.
Cover it up: We have seen this time and time again. Whether is comes from disbelief that it could happen at the business or by the person accursed or even if as a leader you don’t personally believe the sexual harassment should have bothered anyone (trust me we’ve seen this too), don’t cover it up. Don’t collude with witnesses, the accused or anyone else to ensure that the allegations never see the light of day. Don’t get rid of records including phone, email or other sensitive documents that might be used later in court. Trust me, your own personally liability in a case like this, isn’t worth whoever you are trying to protect. If it doesn’t come out now, no matter how much you cover it up, these cases have a way to coming to light. Mostly because the accused keeps up the behavior with the victim who told or with someone else. And it’s even worse if it really didn’t happen because then the accused has little in the way to prove later that claim was unjustified and even a misunderstanding. The coverup in and of itself make the person look guilty.
Investigate Internally – Small businesses and nonprofits don’t tend to have big human resource departments that can handle an investigation with experience and without bias. Most people in these roles don’t have true human resource or legal backgrounds to investigate the claims appropriately. Plus, there are far too many familiar relationships that can easily make the person charged with investigating biased. It’s always better to simply seek out the help of an experienced legal (lawyer or private investigator) or human resource consultant experienced with sexual harassment claims to conduct an independent investigation and make recommendations going forward. This truly does protect all the parties involved.
Retaliate: If you want to ensure you are caught in a lawsuit, make sure you retaliate against the person making the claims or even the person in the organization pushing for an appropriate investigation. Just keep digging yourself further into a legal hole. We have seriously seen this happen, and it can make the whole situation come out faster than it ever would have previously – in court, in the press, and online. Angry and wronged people talk and pursue legal action they might not have before.