New surveys show the impact of the #MeToo Movement in the workplace, providing insights into positive refinements of human resources practices, including how to rethink employee investigations. A 2017 Quinnipac University poll reveals that approximately 60 percent of women report being sexually harassed. But this number is most likely much larger, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that 90 percent of women who have been harassed never report it. The #MeToo Movement also reminds us that effective and proactive training, combined with accessible and credible investigation procedures, are the best way to foster a positive work culture and workplaces free from harassment.
1. Rethinking Employee Harassment Training. Given these recent surveys, redoubling and refining employee training is recommended. First, traditional employee training, which focuses only on a list of bad behavior, may not be enough. Second, employers should devote training time to alert “bystanders” of the obligation to report inappropriate conduct in the workplace. Third, employers should reevaluate what “triggers” an investigation. Employers should not wait for “formal” complaints, and should be prepared to react when aware of casual reports of misconduct.
2. Redoubling Mentoring Efforts/Training. Some surveys suggest that the #MeToo Movement has resulted in unintended consequences for women in the workplace. Nearly 45 percent of male managers now report that they are “uncomfortable” participating in — and may even avoid — common work activity, including mentorship, with female colleagues. This is a 300 percent increase since the recent media coverage on sexual harassment. Many companies are starting to address this issue with specific initiatives and training, getting help from places like Gonzaga University’s Leadership Training and Development Office, which offers a variety of leadership trainings and helps companies alleviate the mentor gap with tools for men in the workplace to improve mentoring of up and coming managers.
3. Specific Steps for Investigations in the #MeToo Era. As reflected in a wide variety of polls, 80 percent of respondents believe that individuals who complain about harassment "should be given the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise." On the other hand, 34 percent of employees express concern about “false” harassment claims and the potential for a “rush to judgment.” The dual concerns in these polls reinforce the importance of objective and thorough investigations that are also perceived as being objective and thorough. Here are some tips to guide employers in their investigations of workplace harassment concerns:
First, select an objective, trained investigator. Depending upon the severity of the complaint and the position of the alleged harasser, consider tapping an independent, outside investigator.
Second, investigators should be specifically trained on how to assess credibility. Each complaint should be viewed on its own facts, rather than giving any one person the “benefit of the doubt.”
Third, deal objectively with the “superstar” performer who treats others inappropriately. “Superstar” performers may be costing you more than you think. A 2015 Harvard Business School study shows that high performing employees who harass other employees impose significant costs on their employers, in the form of lawsuits, sick days and counseling, among other things. Dealing with “superstar” employees who behave badly, and not tolerating toxic behavior, can more than double the purported benefits of keeping the bad actor “star” performer.
Fourth, be aware of new #MeToo Movement legislation regarding employer response to complaints of workplace harassment. Washington is one of many states, including Maryland, Vermont and New York, that has recently adopted new statutes affecting how employers should perform investigations. For example, effective June 7, 2018, Washington employers are prohibited from requiring, as a condition of employment, that employees sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing the employee from discussing workplace sexual harassment or sexual assault, including alleged sexual harassment between an employer and an employee, whether occurring on or off the employer’s premises.
The time is now to take a fresh approach to your training and investigation practices.
 See Quinnipiac University Poll
 See Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Harassment Report
 See Fast Company Article
 See Gonzaga University’s Leadership Training and Development Studies
 See Ipsos Poll on Behalf of NPR
 See Pew Research Survey
 See Harvard Business Study
 See Lane Powell Legal Update
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