Weinstein, #MeToo and Misbehavior in the C-Suite: How HR Should Respond
The flood of accusations – civil AND criminal – against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has given women new confidence to publicly denounce sexual harassment and other misconduct by powerful leaders – not just in Hollywood but in workplaces across the country.
The movement spawned a Twitter hashtag, #MeToo, that more than 1.7 women and men have used in 85 countries to speak out and name their harassers.
How would your organization handle a bombshell complaint against your top brass?
The truth is, Weinstein’s fall isn’t unique. Over the past five years, 5.3% of CEOs globally have been forcibly removed due to ethical lapses, including harassment, according to a PricewaterhouseCooopers study. That’s a 36% increase from 2007-2011, when 3.9% of CEOs were forced out.
Sexual harassment laws have been on the books for more than 50 years, but most workplace incidents still go unreported. While the EEOC receives more than 30,000 harassment complaints each year, the agency estimates that only “6% to 13% of individuals who experience harassment file a formal complaint.”
When harassment is identified, it’s fairly easy for HR to confront a front-line worker, but it’s much more difficult to approach your CEO or other top dogs. From a legal perspective, however, it’s more important to stop a raging CEO in his tracks.
So how should you deal with misbehavior in the C-Suite? Here are three tips:
- Provide multiple avenues to report harassment. You probably have an anti-harassment policy, but many companies fall down when it comes to having a system for receiving complaints that gives employees multiple effective ways to come forward. (Examples: Notifying HR, contacting a designated senior executive or calling a third-party hotline.) Remember, while some employees wouldn’t be afraid to contact HR, a frontline worker who speaks little English may need an easier approach, such as a hotline that lets her (or him) talk with someone who speaks her language. And an employee who is being harassed by their boss is unlikely to file a complaint if your policy directs victims to report harassment to their supervisor.
- Explain the big picture. Don’t pull punches with a CEO or top exec. Explain the complaint, but also discuss your exec’s actions in light of protecting the organization from an expensive lawsuit. Courts will see your CEO as the mouthpiece of your organization and likely hold him or her to a higher standard. If you know what’s going on and fail to stop it, you’re opening the organization – and possibly YOURSELF – to corporate (and even personal) liability.
- Enlist the help of outside counsel, and let them do the talking. They will be able to better explain the legal risks (to you and the accused exec) and give you guidance on how to proceed.
Don’t be caught flat-footed by the bad behavior of a rouge employee. At our LEAP 2018 session Misbehavior in the C-Suite, you’ll discover practical advice on how to deal with this complex problem and dozens of other legal headaches you face each day.
Plus, you’ll have a fabulous time with your peers at the legendary Caesar’s Palace. See you in Las Vegas!
Joseph L. Beachboard, Esq.
Moderator, LEAP 2018