Watershed Moment in Workplace HR

Cases of discrimination and harassment of all types are now front and center in the news. Celebrities, politicians and the rich and powerful are now facing a huge backlash. Firings, loss of credibility, lawsuits, and heightened public scrutiny has rocked organized organizations of all sizes.  Even as the social media #MeToo has won Time Magazine announced it as its Most Influential for 2017, this movement is bringing out into the open what many companies and HR professionals addressed with private mediation and non-disclosure agreements.

In a recent interview that appeared on the Post-Gazette.com website, this has become what Yasmin Purohit, professor of human resource management at Robert Morris University, describes as a ‘watershed moment’.  This moment has been highlighted by the very dramatic and very public fall of powerful media figures such as producer Harvey Weinstein, Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios,  key anchor for both CBS and PBS, Charlie Rose,  NBC anchor Matt Lauer, and United States Senators Al Franken and John Conyers.  Each of these influential power brokers has each had to face numerous allegations of sexual harassment or sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

“I think there are those moments in history, the genie is not going back into the bottle,” Ms. Purohit said. “I think of Harvey Weinstein as being one of those moments

For HR professionals out in the workforce, there are feelings of pressure to protect workers as well as an obligation to protect the companies that they work for.   When stories hit the wire and end up on the front page, on national newscasts or being shared across social media, sorting through the issues can take longer than they might have without intensified public scrutiny.  I can be a real challenge between doing what’s right and preventing similar human resource or public relations nightmares from happening in the first place.

Purohit asserts that being able to objectively investigate claims of sexual assault or harassment goes beyond what most of her students will be taught while earning their degrees.

What is Expected in the Workplace

According to federal civil rights law, everyone is entitled to work in an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment.  Every year there are thousands of claims of sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.  It is estimated that in 2016 workers filed some 26,934 charges of sex discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  This is a 2 percent increase over figures from 2015 but less than the record number of over 30,000 charges that were filed in 2012.

According to a statement issued by the EEOC, a federal judge in Pittsburgh has ordered a health care provider to pay $55,500 to a gay employee for harassment he received in the workplace due to his sexual orientation in 2013.  This announcement which came just last week is the first of its kind in the country of an   EEOC case regarding discrimination over sexual orientation.

If an employee has experienced discrimination in the workplace, most often they go to their organization’s human resource department.  HR professionals investigate the matter internally and if necessary, outside legal counsel for both the company and the employee can get involved.  According to Gretchen Carlson, former anchor for Fox News, most of these cases are addressed internally. In order to settle the matter, often a worker will have to sign a non-disclosure agreement or NDA before any damages are paid. This NDA that prevents them from speaking about the matter to anyone else, even warning other employees who may also be facing similar circumstances. Failure to stick to the terms of an NDA could mean that the worker will have to forfeit all monies from the settlement.  Carlson gives the caveat that often HR departments are far more concerned about protecting the company rather than the rights of the employee. If the person responsible for the harassment is a star employee, the goal can simply get the worker lodging the complaint to simply go away rather than reprimanding the star employee.

Much of what has been happening before now is cultural.  Corporate culture has seemed to tolerate or even ignore problems of harassment or discrimination in the workplace.  Human resource professionals have a difficult job to do if they want to do right not only for the organizations that they work for but also for the workers who look to them for guidance or even protection.   Investigating allegations of sexual assault or other types of poor workplace behavior can be difficult.  Being able to do due diligence the right way so that situations are resolved equitably can be a challenge that many companies are not experienced in addressing. The #MeToo movement has made it clear to many organizations that incidents of sexual assault and similar challenges should not be tolerated.

Human resource professionals have a difficult job to do. Facing the challenges surrounding allegations of sexual or other types of harassment can be a delicate balance.  Having a PEO company to help companies prevent the situation before it starts can be of great benefit.  Companies often choose NetPEO for their human resource needs because of our experience and our reputation.

Our wide range of services includes payroll, employee benefits, liability management for employers, brokerage services, and employee leasing.  Contact us today to discuss your company’s current needs and for a free, no risk assessment.  Let NetPEO help you with all of your employee needs.