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Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.
— Chinese Proverb
 
 

Sexual Harassment Investigations—Why Companies Should Hire an Independent Third Party

Megyn Kelly’s new book has again put a spotlight on workplace sexual harassment, a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Very generally, “sexual harassment” describes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

If you don’t think this is a problem, think again.

  • In 2015 the EEOC received 6,822 sexual harassment complaints.
  • 17% of those complaints came from males.
  • 75% of those experiencing sexual harassment at work did not report the incident, per a 2013 poll.
  • 23% of people had witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace but just 33% made a report about what they had seen.

If you’re still not convinced that workplace sexual harassment is a problem, maybe these sexual harassment cases will sway you.

  • In 2011 a jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages to a woman who had been subject to various physical contact by her supervisor . The woman had called a company harassment hotline, but was never contacted. At some point after the call she was approached by another supervisor, who confronted her in front of the perpetrator about the alleged harassment.  The supervisor warned the perpetrator to "watch his back" because of the complaint.
  • In 2012 a federal court jury awarded a 45-year-old physician assistant $125 million in punitive damages, $39 million for mental anguish and $3.5 million for lost wages and benefits due to rampant sexual harassment by surgeons who created a toxic sexual atmosphere. The award came nearly four years after she was terminated for filing repeated complaints to the hospital's human resources department.
  • In 2016 Gretchen Carlson settled a sexual harassment suit for $20 million against Fox News Chief Roger Ailes.  When Carlson complained about a ‘pervasively sexist atmosphere’ in the newsroom, then-chief Roger Ailes allegedly suggested that the problem could be solved if Carlson had a sexual relationship with him.
  • In 2016 a teen won $7.65 million in a lawsuit against an assistant manager at a Houston Chipotle who, among other things, had sex with the girl by the dumpster and in the restroom at least 40 times. When the teen’s mother notified the general manager, he begged her not to call the police.

Do you find any consistencies here? The two most prominent are large awards and failed reporting mechanisms.  It is not enough to have a company anti-harassment policy.  What you do, or don’t do, means much more than what your policy says.

It all comes down to culture.  What kind of culture do you want at your company? If you want to be completely transparent and promote an ethical culture that provides a great working environment for employees, it may be best to consider hiring an outside resource to manage your internal complaints.

Why should you outsource your internal complaints to an independent third party?

  • No conflict of interest.
  • Unbiased fact-finding and conflict resolution.
  • Shields retaliation claims.
  • Professional employment investigators have knowledge of regulations and can spot potential risks.
  • Frees up HR to do what HR should be doing.
  • Professional investigators have experience with legal processes and testifying in court.
  • Employees feel their concerns were important and thoroughly vetted.
  • Professional investigators are less expensive than lawyers but DO work with counsel to maintain privilege.
  • Employees are more willing to talk with someone they don’t view as an arm of management.
  • Quick and timely response to complaints.
  • Resolving issues before they get out of hand prevents ‘disaster recovery’ and bad publicity later.

Workplace FactFinders would be happy to consult with you on developing a transparent mechanism to respond to employee complaints. For more information, please call Cynthia Fenton at 844-321-9733 Ext. 700 or email info@workplacefactfinders.com.  You may find more information about us at workplacefactfinders.com.

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