How Businesses Move Forward after Sexual Harassment Claims

How to Move Forward: For Businesses 

The aftermath for a sexual harassment claim case can be just as important as the events of the case itself. When the dust settles on the proceedings and punishments have been issued, there are still things that need to be done. Taking the time to move forward from what happened is important as it allows everyone involved the chance to heal and grow from the experience. This isn't just an opportunity for the primary players, meaning the harasser and their victims, but also for the business or company that holds the actual workplace where the harassment took place.

This article will look at the aftermath of a sexual harassment claim and how businesses can move forward for the better. Topics of discussion will include dealing with the case's outcome, addressing issues in the workplace that contributed to the harassment, and some of the options available to businesses to help improve conditions. Keep in mind that this will be from the perspective of the workplace where the harassment happened rather than the people directly involved, yet what is listed here will still be to their's and others' benefit.

Outcome of Case Proceedings

As suggested by the previous lesson, there are several avenues that a sexual harassment claim could take. Each one has its own set of potential outcomes and several possibilities overlapping for multiple options. Whatever path is ultimately taken, all parties should take heed of the outcome that develops. From a legal standpoint, any rulings, orders, or formal decisions not only should be obeyed by the appropriate parties, but also have to be obeyed. A business or employer might not always be directly involved in the legal proceedings of a sexual harassment case like a plaintiff but can still be affected by the outcome or directed to do something by the courts. Therefore, you need to pay attention to what happens.

If a sexual harassment case goes to court or through arbitration, then there will likely be some kind of penalties placed against one of the parties. This often involves financial payouts like settlements but employers who are found at fault may have to also pay for the harassed employee's lost wages, legal fees like for attorneys and court costs, punitive damages, compensatory damages, and any fines from government offices like the EEOC. Employers may also be ordered to reinstate victims who were fired from their jobs or demoted back to their original positions if that had occurred as a part of the harassment or from retaliation. Failing to adhere to any court ordered legal outcomes can result in further consequences, so employers and businesses need to make sure that they comply. There shouldn't be any concern about not being aware of the outcome since all parties involved who are issued instructions by the court are informed of what they are supposed to do and when.

Identify Problems in the Workplace

One of the best ways that a business or employer can start the process of moving forward from the aftermath of a sexual harassment case is to address the details of the case. This means looking at what factors from the workplace that allowed the harassment to happen and the events that followed. When sexual harassment is reported and a claim is processed, there is a lot of information that is revealed about the workplace in general. For businesses, this provides them with an opportunity for reflection and change for the better use of it.

Most businesses start by identifying the problems in the workplace that played a role in the harassment. Since society isn't perfect and things like sexual harassment are unfortunately a possibility that many people do not see as unacceptable, businesses and employers who have had to be involved in a sexual harassment case are important in changing that attitude. For most, this involves taking actions that can help reduce sexual harassment's prevalence in their particular workplace. Note that it's "reduce" and not "eliminate." There has yet to be a completely surefire way of stopping sexual harassment altogether in the workplace and/or society as there are a number of factors of influence that are not completely controllable. That does not mean that there isn't any point in taking action since it won't wipe out the problem in full. However, a significant difference can still be made if one actually puts the time and effort into doing so.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Workplace Sexual Harassment in the #MeToo Era course?

So what can be done after a case comes to a close to help improve things? Sexual harassment cases often establish the aspects of the workplace and in the business that had a negative influence on the situation. Certain areas that employers may want to look at include the following.

Hostile Work Environment Traits -- Hostile work environments can allow harassment, discrimination, and general mistreatment to develop quite easily. This is because the attitudes and behaviors that are already present can serve as precursors to sexual harassment and make it hard for it to be identified or addressed seriously. A hostile work environment involves traits associated with bullying and aggression and can impede the necessary functions of the workplace, such as communication abilities. It is not obnoxious co-workers or a lack of benefits or privileges, as many people think.
Policy Enforcement -- Ineffective enforcement of policies and procedures can also contribute to harassment if the policies that are designed to prevent or punish harassment are not being enforced. Inconsistent policy enforcement can cause a lot of problems for businesses in the workplace, including in instances of retaliation, liability, and employee oversight. Failing to enforce policies allows inappropriate behaviors to go unpunished and present the wrong idea to staff. Inappropriate enforcement of policies or a lack of uniformity in enforcement can also produce the right conditions for problems to develop and persist. For example, punishments for the same offenses in the workplace varying from offender to offender could be interpreted by staff as favoritism or sloppiness.
Internal Corruption and Power Abuses -- Not everyone is able to handle things well when they are given a large quantity of power. As previous lessons have mentioned, power plays a significant role in the motivations behind sexual harassment and the power a harasser has over their victim within the hierarchy of the workplace can significantly impact whether the harassment is reported. There are genuine concerns by victims that nothing will be done against someone who has power and authority in a business, such as a supervisor or even the employer. Their status offers them support and social capital that their victims might not have. In cases where the harassment occurred in a male-dominated workplace and the victim was female, there are aspects of masculine culture that downplays even the severest harassment simply because it's a woman being harassed by her male peer and/or superior. Any kind of power inequality between the harasser and the victim can cause reporting to be perceived as wasteful if the harasser has more power.

Evaluate Issue Policies and Procedures

Many of the actions that businesses and employers take after a sexual harassment claim is through their policies and procedures. Most take this time as an opportunity to re-evaluate what's already in place and potentially develop modifications or replacements. This can include anything related to anti-harassment policies, reporting and investigating practices, and penalties for violations of policies. There is also an issue with many businesses and companies having anti-harassment policies and procedures that are too complicated or vague, which makes it difficult for employees to know what is and/or isn't acceptable, what their options are, and what to do when something happens.

Using the details of the case itself, the specific aspects of policies and procedures in the workplace that employers should look at include the following.

What, if anything, failed? It's quite possible that the existing policies are not as effective as you may think. There can be built-in flaws that allow for weak enforcement and loopholes for violations. This in turn can make it harder for employers who actually want to address sexual harassment seriously and punish offenders, but can't due to the current rules of their company. These loopholes can also be brought up as an issue in sexual harassment cases, in part, because of their inefficiency. They can also be an issue if a harasser was punished in accordance with the flawed policy when it happens to conflict with other laws, policies, etc., or if the punishment does not completely match with the wording of the policy. Inefficient workplace policies can be poorly worded, contradictory, or too vague for them to properly serve their intended purpose, so it's a good idea to take a close look at the actual language dictating procedures for harassment.


Spread of Information -- As previously mentioned, a major issue with sexual harassment policies in the workplace is that the relevant information isn't always well known among the workforce. Employees who are not informed of protocols or the available options for addressing harassment in the workplace cannot actually do anything. It is possible that they may seek that information but believing that there's nothing to seek can deter them. Employers should make the information and the policies regarding harassment explicitly clear to all staff and remind them of their existence at regular intervals, such as yearly. The information itself should be clear and outline the different rules, procedures, and processes pertaining to sexual harassment claims, such as investigation and reporting. It should not be treated as a secret and the information should be kept in easily accessible places, such as in employee handbooks or through educational programs. This should also apply to any kind of procedures regarding reporting since systems that are hard to find or too complex to easily use can discourage their usage. Awareness and accessibility for the reporting system should be brought up when new employees sign on, at regular training or education sessions, when policies are updated, etc.

Relevancy and Growth -- It is possible that there is nothing wrong with the sexual harassment policies and procedures that a business has but with how they fit in the business. A company can grow and expand but still have internal problems arise if certain areas do not grow at the same rate. There are crucial areas that need to be addressed in order for that growth to be stable. Workplace policies are one of those areas that can generate problems if they are not proportionate to the size of the business as it grows. They can lose their relevancy to issues and effectiveness within the workplace if they are not modified or updated at appropriate intervals. Increases in staff size, physical location and size of the workplace, and changes in technology usage can all impact the effectiveness of a business' policies as it grows. If your business has not made any modifications to its policies on sexual harassment in recent years or if none have ever been made since the company's founding, then updating them should be made a priority.

Drafting New Policies -- Sometimes, the existing policies cannot be salvaged or successfully modified. In those instances, it may just be better to draft new ones that better serve the needs of the workplace and the business. This usually applies to policies that are horribly out of date or ineffective, where modifications would have the same effect as starting over would. In cases where there are conflicting policies, replacing them with a newer one that is free of contradictions can also be a better option. This may or may not be the easiest approach, depending on how much work is needed depending on business size. However, it can be far less complicated than making potentially endless modifications to existing policies that may be in terrible shape to begin with.

Performance of the Human Resources Department -- A business' human resources department is often the part of the business that does the bulk of the work when it comes to addressing sexual harassment. This includes handling reports, investigating complaints, managing and enforcing policies, and distributing and documenting informational resources. It's a lot to do, especially when you keep in mind that this is on top of all of their other responsibilities within the company. The ability and performance of HR can impact how sexual harassment is being addressed in the workplace, so any problems within that department can pose other issues in that fight. Most HR professionals are encountering problems in addressing sexual harassment, such as a lack of reporting from victims and lack of support from senior management, that can prevent them from successfully making an impact. Businesses who want to actively make an improvement on how sexual harassment is dealt with and prevented in the workplace may want to take a look at HR's performance in the matter and what is influencing that performance.