The sexual harassment allegations towards infamous Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, haven’t come as a shock to many. In fact, the scandal has been called “Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret”.

We’ve all heard this story before. Powerful executive takes advantage of young women seeking to further their career. Unfortunately, this is an age-old tale in the workplace. And simply distributing a company policy and paying hush money won’t prevent risks to your employees and to your brand. Sexual harassment and [insert your brand] across the national nightly news doesn’t scream “we are a trusted brand, work with us”. So what can you do to avoid a Weinstein Company PR disaster?

Create a non-permissive culture

According to Matthew Robinson, Partner of FCB Group and an Accredited Specialist in the field of employment law, a permissive workplace culture allows for sexual harassment to occur. An example of a permissive workplace culture can arise where there are clear gender and power imbalances. For example, an accounting firm where most, if not all, the partners and senior executives are male and all junior staff roles are filled by females. “Sexual harassment is a manifestation of a power imbalance”, explains Matt, “typically the men who sexually harass women in the workplace feel as though their superior position gives them the right to behave inappropriately.” This can create a misguided “blokey” culture that fails to recognise and self-correct inappropriate behaviour.

The key is to ensure that all members of the organisation are treated as equal business partners, regardless of their gender or role in the company. As a business owner or HR Manager, this is your responsibility to create a respectful culture with equal opportunity.

Regularly promote policies

Sexual harassment policies need to be regularly promoted and reinforced. Simply including a paragraph on sexual harassment in the employee handbook, and distributing it to new employees won’t cut it. We recommend discussing the policy with employees every six months during meetings.

It is also essential that employees are aware of resources and safe spaces to ventilate issues. This may not mean they have to file a charges, but employees need to know that there is a trusted HR Manager (possibly like yourself) they can talk to about anything that occurs in the workplace, especially in the lead up to Christmas party season.

More Money, More Problems

If there is anything we can learn from The Weinstein Company, it’s that hush money is not a long term solution. Many of the women allegedly assaulted by Harvey Weinstein received large settlements to keep quiet. However, there is strength in numbers and an obvious scent the public will pick up on. Suing a victim for breach of a Confidentiality Agreement doesn’t stop the PR disaster.

A settlement may seem like the perfect short term solution to protecting your brand and making the problem go away. So, the female employee takes her pay out, and your senior executive gets off with a stern warning. Problem solved? Well not exactly.

Paying to make a sexual harassment claim disappear doesn’t eliminate the risk of irreparable brand damage. It also can lead to problems with retention and diminished productivity. In Matthew’s career, he has seen that settlements for sexual harassment claims “commoditises the problem”. Once one employee leaves with a huge payout, news can travel fast throughout the organisation. If there is a pattern, the news can have a devastating effect on workplace culture. Others, may see being sexual harassed as a meal ticket to a large payout or just something to be expected working at that organisation.

When it comes to sexual harassment the best policy is a zero-tolerance policy. Even if the accused produced “Pulp Fiction”, the effect on company culture and brand reputation isn’t worth the risk.

For any questions on how to handle harassment or bullying claims at your business, our Telephone Advisory Team (TAS) team is available 24/7 to guide you through delicate situations and protect your brand. Contact us today for a free consultation.