Authors: Michelle Bird

Special note to BC readers:

If this subject is of interest to you, you may wish attend our related workshop. Some spots are still open for the following session – we recommend registering soon. We hope to see you there.

Conducting Sexual Harassment and Violence Investigations
November 27-28, 2018 in Vancouver, BC
This advanced-level training is a must for any staff who may respond to and/or investigate sexual harassment or sexual assault complaints.

When it comes to making buying decisions, we all want the same thing: quality merchandise that is readily available, for a fair price. But this isn’t all – more and more consumers are factoring corporate image and business ethics into their buying decisions. We want to know how a business treats its workers, what impact its production methods have on the environment, and what corporate values it champions.

A year into the social media storm that is #metoo, many businesses have had to learn a hard lesson: the negative attention resulting from sexual harassment scandals has real business consequences. Many consumers have chosen to boycott businesses that do not take sexual harassment and violence seriously, and that fail to provide a safe working environment for employees.

Conversely, other organizations have embraced #metoo, either as a backdrop for sending positive messages about bodily autonomy, or by getting ahead of a controversy before it starts. For example, Vancouver-based TransLink recently stopped using the voice of Morgan Freeman for announcements on public transit, after multiple women came forward with sexual harassment allegations against the actor. TransLink replaced the announcements with the voice of Seth Rogen, a celebrity who was outspoken about his support of women coming forward with allegations against Harvey Weinstein in 2017.

Similarly, Warner Brothers had to act quickly when the executive producer of several Vancouver-based television shows – including Supergirl and Arrow – was accused of sexual misconduct by nearly 20 individuals. The company publicly stated its commitment to providing a safe working environment, and terminated the producer.

It is clear that organizations are catching on to the damage control that must be done once sexual harassment allegations come to light, but it is also possible to be more proactive. Other companies are using #metoo as an opportunity to spread a positive message about respect and bodily autonomy. Twin Sails Brewing, based in Port Moody, produces a charity beer every year for a worthy cause. This year they have partnered with Good Night Out – a non-profit organization that sends teams out into the Granville Entertainment District to help keep people safe and reduce sexual harassment – to produce beer cans that have messages or statistics about sexual violence in Canada. The company hopes that the messages will spark important conversations about sexual harassment and violence. As a positive side effect, the company has gotten plenty of media attention for their efforts.

Every employer can learn from the very public successes and failures of various businesses in the year since #metoo began. Simply put: your customers care about how you treat your employees. Taking workplace harassment and violence seriously is an integral part of keeping employees happy and safe, and of protecting corporate image in the process. Here are some ways to do that:

Keep policies up to date

Both provincial and federal workplace legislation is constantly changing to reflect the current climate, and corporate policies also need to keep up with the times. If possible, make your policies even more comprehensive than is required by legislation, to emphasize the high expectations the organization has for employee and manager behaviour.

Provide training

A comprehensive policy is only useful if employees receive the necessary training to understand it. Studies have shown that the most effective training is at least four hours long, interactive, in-person, and tailored to the specific workplace.

Anyone within your organization who will be conducting investigations into allegations of harassment or violence should receive specialized training to ensure investigations are completed in a timely, fair, impartial manner.

Make reporting safe

It is well-known that most incidents of sexual harassment go unreported, either because the victim does not think they will be believed, or because they fear retaliation. Organizations need to emphasize, through policies, training, and public messaging, that complaints will be taken seriously and that no reprisal against complainants will be tolerated.

By taking steps to address harassment before it starts, and by promptly and thoroughly dealing with any complaints that come forward, companies can protect their employees while also protecting their public image.