Since October 2017, companies and state legislatures have been grappling with how to respond to the #MeToo movement.
We've seen employers institute enhanced sexual harassment policies and conduct more robust internal investigations.
We've seen New York State and New York City pass legislation requiring sexual harassment policies and training of every employee and more.
And we've seen Connecticut try, although ultimately fail, to expand its own sexual harassment training requirements.
Unfortunately, we've also seen companies take an avoidance approach. Specifically, some male executives have begun avoiding women altogether as a form of self-preservation.
Bloomberg.com on Dec. 3, 2018, even published an article titled Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost.
We cannot stress this enough: Avoidance is not the answer, and it's not a smart approach from a labor and employment law perspective.
While it's an exaggeration to claim that male executives are avoiding women entirely, it's true that some are afraid to mentor women, work late alone with a woman, or go to dinner or lunch alone with a woman for fear of unfounded claims of sexual harassment.
This type of avoidance, however, could lead to a sex discrimination claim instead of a sexual harassment claim.
By refusing to be alone with women in work settings or work-related social settings, male executives are treating women differently solely because of their gender—not an advisable practice.
The solution is not that complicated: Don't make inappropriate comments, keep your hands to yourself, and treat all your coworkers with respect.
These should be commonsense rules for men and women, but unfortunately some people just don't get it.
What You Can Do
Here are a few takeaways for employers:
- Train employees on appropriate conduct at work.
- Create a culture of inclusion and ensure management is not avoiding any particular group of employees, whether based on sex, race, age, sexual orientation, or religion.
- Create an environment in which your management team feels comfortable about expressing their supervisory concerns and can adequately supervise employees without fear of unwarranted discrimination claims.
These few steps will help ensure a productive and functional workforce and management team.
Register today for CBIA's Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, March 7, 2019, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn Wallingford/Meriden in Wallingford.