Employment Law Lessons from Harvey Weinstein

Friday, 13 October 2017 19:42 Written by  Patricia Collins

Harvey Weinstein’s conduct is irresponsible, atrocious and potentially criminal, but that’s not the point of this blog.  Instead, I would like to take the opportunity presented by Weinstein’s case (and the many others in the news this year) to talk about reporting and remediating workplace harassment. 

Weinstein is the next in a line of prominent men accused of decades of harassment.  It appears that at places like Fox and Miramax, and now Amazon, harassment by the boss was a feature of workplace culture.  How did responsible employers allow this to continue?  Did the women not complain?  Did the employer bury the accusation?  Didn’t anyone know?  There is some evidence that the answer to all of these questions is yes:  the women felt that they could not complain, the employer buried the accusations with financial settlements, and many knew and did not raise any red flags out of fear or intimidation. 

The other common theme in these cases is the kind of harassment that took place:  abuse of position, arrogance about complaints, “quid pro quo” promises, and intimidation. 

Employers should consider their policies and practices to ensure a workplace free from this conduct.  Serial harassers poison the culture of the workplace and hurt the bottom line.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journalnoted the impact on the workplace of “rude” employees.    Imagine the impact of intimidating, harassing executives who abuse their power?  If employers have a serial harasser in a leadership position, it is time to face the music and address the behavior.

Employees should have an easy means of complaining.  Policies should allow employees to “go around” the harassing superior in order to make the complaint, and the harasser should not be included in decision making regarding the complaint.  Employers should avoid overly formal complaint procedures or reliance on form over substance.  Employers should conduct professional, confidential investigations, and farm the investigation out to a third party if necessary. 

It is important to note that settlements are not a license to keep a harasser employed.  The employer still has knowledge of the harasser’s bad behavior, and steps should be taken to avoid repeated incidents.  Those steps might include termination of important employees. 

A common theme in these high-profile cases is that the conduct started (and thus the culture was created) in a “different time” when these workplace protections were not in place.  That’s absurd.  Title VII became law in 1964, and employers should pride themselves on operating a modern workplace, compliant with laws that have been on the books for decades. 

So, how modern is your workplace?  Do you have a serial harasser?  Are you burying complaints to protect an executive?  Do your employees have a safe, easy way to make complaints to an independent person?  AMM can help employer develop a common sense policy that protects your business and your employees. 
 
 

Last modified on Friday, 13 October 2017 19:51
Patricia Collins

Patricia Collins

Patty has been practicing law since 1996 in the areas of Employment Law, Health Care and Litigation, with extensive experience in advising employers and health care providers as well as complex litigation in federal and state courts. Patty’s knowledge of employment law includes the Employee Retirement Income Security Act; federal and state employment discrimination laws, and employment contracts and wage claims.

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