Avoidance of Women is Not the Answer to the #MeToo Movement
Since October 2017, companies have been grappling with how to respond to the #MeToo movement. We have seen employers impose enhanced sexual harassment policies and conduct more robust internal investigations. We have seen New York State and New York City pass legislation requiring sexual harassment policies and training of every employee and more. We have seen Connecticut try, although ultimately fail, to expand its own sexual harassment training requirements.
We have also, unfortunately, seen companies take an avoidance approach. Specifically, some male executives have begun avoiding women all together as a form of self-preservation. On December 3, 2018, Bloomberg.com even published an article stating Wall Street’s Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost.
We cannot stress this enough: this is not the answer nor is it a smart approach from a labor and employment law perspective. While it is an over exaggeration that male executives are avoiding women entirely, it is true some are scared to mentor women, work late with women alone, or go to dinner or lunch alone with women, for fear of unfounded claims of sexual harassment. This type of avoidance, however, could lead to a sex discrimination claim instead of a sexual harassment one. In essence, male executives are treating women differently entirely because of their sex by refusing to be alone with them and/or work with them.
This is not the answer. The answer is to be smart. Don’t make inappropriate sexual comments. Don’t grope your co-workers. These should be common sense rules for both men and women but unfortunately some people just don’t get it.
A few takeaways for employers:
- Train employees on appropriate conduct at work.
- Create a culture of inclusion and ensure management is not avoiding any particular group of people whether that be based on sex, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
- Create an environment in which the management team feels comfortable about expressing their supervisory concerns and can adequately supervise employees without fear of unwarranted discrimination claims.
These few steps will help ensure a productive and functional workforce and management team.
Brody and Associates regularly provides training and counseling on maintaining a harassment free environment and on employment law issues in general. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at email@example.com or 203.454.0560.