Q&A with Daniel P. Johnson
Issue of sexual harassment poses challenge for employers
Q: American Apparel, a clothing retailer known for making all its clothing in the United States, and for its risque and sexually charged advertising, recently fired its founder and longtime CEO Dov Charney as a result of an ongoing investigation of sexual harassment alleged by seven former employees. What’s the takeaway for employers?
A: Employers must have well-crafted sexual harassment policies that describe prohibited conduct and advise employees of the consequences of violating the policy, as well as their duty to report alleged sexual harassment to their supervisor or, if warranted, human resources. In addition, the policy should prohibit retaliation, and advise employees that all complaints will be kept as confidential as possible. Employers also may wish to detail the investigatory process that will follow the submission of a harassment complaint.
Q: How should employers handle reports of alleged sexual harassment?
A: Once a complaint of sexual harassment is received, an employer’s first order of business is to investigate the allegations. Although there is no cookie-cutter investigation that will be appropriate in every circumstance, all effective investigations share common traits. In particular, an effective investigation is prompt, thorough, fair, objective and fact-based, well-documented and includes communication and followup with the complaining individual. Before initiating an investigation, the employer should understand the issues to be investigated, which in turn will allow the employer to select the proper investigator and determine the depth and formality necessary to complete the investigation.
Q: What can employers do to create a safer work environment?
A: The most important action employers can take to ensure their workplace is not rife with unlawful harassment is to diligently enforce the company’s anti-harassment policy, and train the company’s managers and employees on how to identify and remedy conduct that violates the company’s policy. Employers should periodically review and update their anti-harassment policies, and distribute the policy to employees and obtain written confirmation of the employees understanding of the company’s expectations. The company’s workforce should be trained on what conduct is prohibited under the policy and on how to use the complaint procedures. Supervisory and management-level employees should be trained separately from the rest of the workforce, while individuals who will be responsible for conducting harassment investigations should be trained in how to conduct investigations. Each training session, including topics covered, dates and who attended, should be documented.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER