What should employers be doing about #MeToo

As the media fog following the Harvey Weinstein scandal starts to clear, the storm endures as people in the public eye continue to report their experiences of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and discrimination under the immortalised hashtag of #MeToo.

As more people in the public eye come forward, employees may feel more confident and encouraged to do the same. What steps can employers take to anticipate or manage a rise of #MeToo in the workplace?

Look at the culture.
Firstly, look at the existing culture (and really look at it) to consider what action to take. Can an employer confidently say that they have a positive culture of diversity and inclusion, where all employees feel comfortable to come forward to report instances of #MeToo in the workplace? Whilst management may think they have a good understanding of the existing culture, how employees really feel on the coal face may be different.

Review and update policies.
Employees will look to existing policies when they want to report an issue. An employment tribunal will also look at these when considering how an employer has managed the issue. Employers should make sure their policies are clear, accessible to all, reiterated often and show a commitment to promoting a culture where such behaviour is not acceptable or tolerated.

Everyone should be aware of the rules and understand that their actions can be interpreted differently by others. Consider rolling out training to management and, potentially, the wider workforce. HR and employee relations teams may also benefit from tailored training on how to manage these issues sensitively, appropriately and with confidence. Training should not be limited to what the law tells us is unlawful discrimination, but go further to explain the importance and benefits of diversity and inclusion and treating people with respect within the workplace.

Take complaints seriously.
If an employee has come forward to complain about the treatment they have been subject to, it is something which is important to them and may be preventing them from performing at their best. The rise of #MeToo has succeeded as a voice for people to complain in a safe way without repercussion. Employees should feel that they are able to report their concerns confidentially, without fear of repercussion, victimisation or just not being taken seriously. 

Be sensitive.
Manage complaints sensitively and keep an open mind. What is acceptable can be subjective and everyone’s thresholds are different. What one person may see as banter, another may see as harassment, but always remember that harassment is judged from the victim’s perspective.

Manage the situation.
Think about the victim but also about the alleged perpetrator; it will be difficult for them too. Keep it confidential and try to avoid other employees gossiping about it, especially where the employees work in the same team.

Be inclusive.
This works both ways. The focus shouldn’t just be on women. Whilst many businesses have established women’s networks and host female only events, employers should be conscious of how this is perceived and could be discriminatory towards male employees. Diversity and inclusion initiatives succeed best where the whole workforce is actively encouraged to engage with the issues.

The immortalisation of #MeToo shows that sexual abuse, sexual harassment and discrimination is still happening in some workforces and silence, or inaction, is not the answer. Now is the time for employers to consider what steps they can take to be proactive in promoting a culture which addresses these behaviours and makes #MeToo a thing of the past.