#MeToo - The Weinstein Effect and how this effects #YouToo
By Russell Drake
Following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and now the reports in our own backyard against law firm Russell McVeagh, there has been a significant increase in women empowerment in respect to complaints of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.
What do you as an Employer need to know? Having a clear understanding of the correct policy/process to adhere to when dealing with complaints and allegations of sexual harassment in your workplace is critical to managing any complaint. The policy must define what constitutes sexual harassment, detail how to raise a complaint, and how any complaint will be handled. It should also state what will occur if, after following the correct procedure, a person is found to make a false or malicious allegation/complaint against another Employee.
Any person within your workplace can be subject to sexual harassment with this not being limited to sexual harassment against women.
If an Employee makes a complaint of sexual harassment, and feels that an Employer has not handled it appropriately or has brushed it off completely, they have the option of lodging a claim with the Human Rights Tribunal or the Employment Relations Authority.
Employers have a duty to protect their Employees, including a duty to prevent sexual harassment arising in the workplace. If it is found that sexual harassment in the workplace has occurred, and the Employer has breached their obligations under the Human Rights Act 1993, the repercussions on the Employer could be costly.
How do you avoid a successful claim being taken against you? Employers have an obligation to thoroughly investigate any complaint of sexual harassment and should follow the three (3) S’s when investigating a complaint – Swiftly, Seriously and Sensitively. When investigating a complaint, the Employer should ensure that they also treat the accused fairly to ensure that your obligations to that Employee are not compromised.
A full and fair investigation (and disciplinary process if required) should include: obtaining signed and relevant witness statements; informing the accused of the allegations against them, providing all supporting evidence so they can respond appropriately; advising the accused of the next steps and their right to independent support and representation; consideration as to whether suspension may be appropriate in the circumstances; and most importantly thoroughly documenting the process.
Having a Bullying and Harassment Policy in your workplace will be the first step to create a culture change in the workplace.
If you require any advice on the correct process to follow in respect of a sexual harassment complaint, need a policy drafted, or require assistance in undertaking a complaint investigation, feel free to give us a call.