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Small Company Solutions to Prevent #Metoo Problems

It’s been a while since the #metoo movement began. While some corporations grapple with harassment lawsuits in its wake, what effect has the #metoo movement made on small businesses? The media coverage, even social media, can damage a company’s reputation beyond repair when sexual harassment is involved. The fallout can also mean a costly lawsuit and costly damage to profits, retard future growth, and damage a company’s standing in the community. But small companies can protect themselves. Here we look at a few solutions to help mitigate risk, avoid violations of sexual harassment and maintain a solid reputation in the process.

Take that #Metoo Opportunity

Now has never been a better time to have a conversation and review sexual harassment policies with employees. Open communication is essential to creating a company’s policies about sexual harassment to identify its adequacy and relevancy within the company’s work environment and with its employees. Companies should consider the #metoo movement as an opportunity to shape policies that work with the help of their employees. Policies on sexual harassment for small companies need to be clear. It should also state what constitutes sexual harassment and what behaviors will not be tolerated, and what steps employees should take if they see misconduct or experience it firsthand. Companies should also dedicate a point person if there is no HR department as well as indicate that reports can be received anonymously.

Office Flirtations and The #Metoo Workplace

When communications and interactions become too intimate, sexualized, or familiar between two employees, legal issues can become apparent. It is especially true of a relationship between a manager and an employee where the employee believes there may be consequences for refusing an advance. If inappropriate conduct occurs, the employee should be required to speak with someone in HR or management. Even so, boundaries surrounding certain circumstances can be ambiguous especially when taken outside the workplace. For example, casual drinks with a supervisor can be fraught unless there are several employees participating.

The Office Romance

According to a survey last year on romance in the workplace, over half of the survey takers have had an office romance. Regardless of the industry or size of the company, office romances are bound to bloom. In the event of romances going wrong, strong policies on conduct in the workplace need to be established so that every employee feels safe.

To begin with, employee-supervisor relationships should be completely prohibited.  It is difficult to draft a policy that summarizes every potential incident and every circumstance. To avoid repetition and alleviate uncertainty, begin by creating an outline of specific types of conduct that is not allowed in the workplace. Provide guidance for a few of the behaviors from the outline. This guidance can be in the form of written policies given to employees, classes, discussions, links to websites and then handle each specific situation as it comes up. If needed, discuss what behavior is considered sexual harassment and what conduct is appropriate, especially for those employees in supervisory positions. Above all, make it clear that sexual harassment is against the law, and that anyone in a supervisory position has an obligation to uphold that law on behalf of the employer.

Small Business should Protect Themselves from the Beginning

Simply because of their size, small companies have the biggest advantage when it comes to accountability and transparency as compared to much larger organizations. But in the event of an incident, a small business owner should consult with a professional to understand their investigative duties. 

In an effort to avoid sexual misconduct and harassment, small business owners must be upfront about their values. Documenting these values in mission statements, on their website and through policies makes a statement that bolsters a company’s reputation. Whether it’s explaining to supervisors about inappropriate conduct or forbidding alcohol at company gatherings, owners set the tone, culture and principles for their employees. Leading by example may be the best way to avoid risk and litigation in the long run.