Safety First: Ensure Employees Know All Channels to Report Sexual Harassment

One lesson that has come out of the #MeToo movement to curb workplace sexual harassment is the importance of having multiple channels to report questionable behavior. When a supervisor, top director, or even the CEO of the company perpetrates the conduct in question, it becomes incredibly difficult for those subjected to harassment to come forward. Some employees will simply not trust HR, and employers must take this into consideration.

Employers can take a page from the anti-corruption and anti-bribery industry, which has done a good job in training employers that they must have numerous options to report questionable conduct. In addition to HR, these include designated individuals inside the company, within the general counsel’s office, as well as outside sources, such as companies specifically retained to host complaint hotlines. It’s important that individuals are able to make complaints anonymously, if they feel the need to do so.

The more avenues available to voice concerns, the more likely employees are to make complaints in a timely manner. This affords companies the opportunity to deal with a problem harasser before he or she, hopefully, has established a pattern of conduct. And what #MeToo has shown us is that an isolated complaint is rare; if it’s happened before, it is likely to happen again, at least without intervention.

The key to success is to widely publicize options to submit complaints. When Fox News initially defended itself over allegations that host Bill O’Reilly had harassed multiple women, it noted that no one had made complaints about the host, even on its anonymous hotline. Numerous women then came forward and said they had no idea such a hotline existed.

So, pull this information out of the employee handbook and post it publically. Just as emergency exits, disaster plans and wage and hour information are posted in break rooms, consider posting the reporting options available to those who feel they have been subject to harassment or discrimination.

Equally important to publishing reporting options is to reinforce that those who make complaints will not be subject to retaliation. Employees need to be able to trust in the tools the company provides. Unless complainants feel that they will be treated in a fair and responsible manner, these tools will not be utilized. As Fox News found, just because complaints don’t surface doesn’t mean there are no problems. It may point to faulty systems and a corporate culture that needs tending, as opposed to a sign of a safe workplace.