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Avoiding #TimesUp – It’s All About Prevention Avoiding #TimesUp – It’s All About Prevention

Avoiding #TimesUp – It’s All About Prevention

Is the “#MeToo” Movement over? Far from it. Accusations keep coming in the entertainment industry and big business, and criminal proceedings against some high-profile individuals have helped keep the topic front and center. Though the building and construction industry may not seem a likely target for high-profile “#MeToo” claims, it is certainly not immune. Indeed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission experienced a significant increase in the number of sexual harassment charges in 2018 and initiated twice as many sexual harassment lawsuits on behalf of victims last year. The EEOC has also paid significant attention to prevention of workplace harassment. Employers in building and construction should take steps now to help avoid issues when the movement inevitably expands beyond its current scope.

In October of last year, the EEOC held a public meeting for the purpose of discussing and preventing harassment by changing workplace culture. The meeting’s panelists recommended a “holistic approach” to addressing the issue through adoption of policies including reporting procedures, institution of training, prompt investigations of complaints, taking appropriate action, and prohibiting retaliation. Likewise, a number of states passed laws or enacted regulations requiring employers to adopt policies with detailed language making it clear to employees that harassment and retaliation will not be tolerated, providing examples of offending behavior, and instructing employees how to report harassing conduct or retaliation, among other information. In addition, regular training is now required of employers in a number of states, municipalities, and counties.

The EEOC’s focus on harassment prevention has not waned in 2019. In March, the EEOC held a roundtable discussion with representatives from various industries, where the conversation centered on training and policies; the development of a workplace culture focused on respect, diversity, and inclusion; and top-down modeling by company leadership.

What’s the take-away for employers, including in the building and construction industry? Simply put, as the “#MeToo” Movement progresses, the employer who does nothing does so at its peril. Now is the time to proactively examine the company’s culture. Now is the time to review policies with counsel to ensure they not only clearly prohibit illegal discrimination and retaliation but also inform employees about complaint procedures. Now is the time to consider anti-harassment and respect in the workplace training. The old online module/check-the-box format may no longer pass muster, so consideration should be given to new formats tailored to the particular work environment, such as training videos and scenarios that show examples of improper behavior and options for responding or group discussions with employees centered around the company’s culture and values, including maintaining a positive work environment consistent with those values and making employees feel empowered to report or intervene when they encounter harassing behavior. Bystander intervention training is also a hot topic – training all employees to be change-agents in distracting, disrupting, and disclosing inappropriate workplace behaviors.

It’s true that proactively addressing harassment will help employers avoid liability, but the value of a harassment-free workplace far exceeds the reduced legal cost. When it comes down to it, most employees simply want to feel respected and supported in their workspaces. By taking significant harassment prevention action, employers will no doubt reap the rewards with increased job satisfaction, productivity, and retention. Act now before #TimesUp.

Germaine Winnick Willett is a member of Ice Miller’s Labor, Employment and Immigration Group. She and Ice Miller’s other labor and employment attorneys assist employers faced with employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wage and hour, contract and other employment-related issues, provide advice and counsel regarding employer investigations, and conduct on-site training. For additional information, contact Germaine at (317) 236-5993 or or any member of Ice Miller’s Labor, Employment, and Immigration Group.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.
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