by Daniel Deacon
Originally published: July 21, 2017
One lesson companies of all sizes can learn from the sexual harassment claims that Uber is facing is that an employer needs to set clear restrictions on harassment and make a conscious effort to hold employees accountable to those workplace standards. In particular, sexual harassment has been a significant issue in the workplace since men and women began working alongside each other. However, it wasn’t until 1964, when Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, that discrimination and harassment in the workplace was explicitly prohibited at the federal level. Since then, several more anti-discrimination laws at both the state and federal level have been passed and countless judicial opinions denouncing unrestrained work culture and impermissible acts have been published. So why is this still a hot button issue in the workplace over 50 years later?
Some may be of the opinion one complaint of workplace harassment is not a big deal because it is not reflective of the entire workforce or the values of the company generally. While this may be true in some cases, it is important to investigate any such complaints because the root of the problem may be broader, such as poor workplace culture, weak management, and/or ineffective workplace policies restricting harassing behavior. The recent high-profile cases that have surfaced within just this last year – Uber and Fox News to name a few – serve as a reminder an employer’s workplace culture and actions in addressing complaints of workplace harassment can have a significant impact on employee perception and behavior, and reduce the potential for costly and damaging lawsuits.