Why Weinstein and #metoo Matters in the Workplace: Preparing for an Onslaught of Harassment Complaints

Why Weinstein and #metoo Matters in the Workplace: Preparing for an Onslaught of Harassment Complaints

The Weinstein Scandal: More than a Scandal

The Harvey Weinstein scandal is not a scandal. A scandal is defined as: “an action or event regarded as morally wrong and causing general public outrage,” suggesting that a scandal is a reaction to a one-time occurrence. What is happening in Hollywood is more than a scandal; it is systemic, ongoing, and historical sexual misconduct and abuse of power. It is important to note that calling it a scandal undermines the longevity and ongoing nature of the misconduct being appropriated by not just Mr. Weinstein, but also many others in positions of power. Among them: director James Toback, director Bryan Singer, actor Kevin Spacey, music producer Dr. Luke, comedian Louis CK, and director Brett Ratner, just to name a few. Hollywood isn’t the only place of origin of such misconduct; just look at Mark Halperin, a political analyst accused of harassment and misconduct in the workplace.

Misconduct in the workplace is not new; it is not happening more. It’s been happening for decades. What’s changing is that victims are refusing to be silenced. They are speaking out and coming together in numbers unseen before, and they are receiving support that was largely unavailable previously. They are no longer being silenced; their voices are being heard.

The #metoo Movement

#metoo is a social movement that saw victims of sexual harassment tweeting or otherwise posting the hash tag “#metoo,” to indicate that at some point in the course of their lives, they had experienced some sort of sexual harassment. It was meant as a way to show support and solidarity with the victims who came forward to put a stop to the actions of the Weinsteins, Spaceys, and Halperins of the world. The movement illustrated how far reaching harassment really is. What #metoo also accomplished was giving victims a platform from which they could come forward with their stories. With power in numbers, the claims of the victims are no longer falling on deaf ears, and inaction against the accused is no longer being tolerated.

The Impact of #metoo

The #metoo movement, while representing a sad reality for the victims, is a movement of progress, as the landscape for how harassment claims are dealt with is evolving. The more people coming forward to say, “hey – this has happened to me as well,” the more action will be taken against the accused and the less acceptable such misconduct becomes. The #metoo movement has also had another effect: it has changed the workplace violence and harassment landscape in Canada, and it is driving a change in legislation. The most important impact of the #metoo movement, and one for which employers must prepare, is the onslaught of harassment claims that follow such movements. It takes bravery to come forward with a claim of harassment, and the #metoo movement is showing victims that they are not alone, giving victims the support they need to come forward with their own harassment reports.

#metoo and the Onslaught of Harassment Claims in the Workplace

In a recent National Post article, harassment investigator Monica Jeffrey states that the increase in the number of complaints being brought forward in the wake of the Weinstein reports is relentless. She says that investigators are “swamped with reports,” and that no workplace is immune from these issues.

The Weinstein epidemic brings to mind the case involving Jian Ghomeshi, who was accused of sexual assault. When he was on trial, a hash tag movement also started, which Jeffrey believes had a large-scale impact on the understanding of workplace violence and harassment in Canada, as well as reporting. Jeffrey suggests that it recast sexual violence as a widespread problem, and put bosses on notice that such behavior would not be tolerated.

Jeffrey does see a correlation between movements such as #metoo and news stories such as Weinstein’s and Toback’s, and an increase in workplace harassment claims. She believes that victims start reflecting on their own experiences, and decide that they are not going to tolerate the behavior any more. They feel more empowered to come forward with their stories. The good news is that Jeffrey is also seeing a cultural shift in the direction of taking harassment claims more seriously, and dealing with misconduct promptly and with the severity required of the situation.

Bill C-65 and How Legislation is Changing

The Canadian government is proactively taking steps to ensure that federal employees, from the most prominent politicians down to bank and postal workers, do not find their names in the news for all the wrong reasons. Already in its second reading, Bill C-65 aims to crack down on harassment in federal workplaces. The goal is to provide both workers and federal employers with a “clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment, exerting more pressure on companies to combat unacceptable behaviour and punish those who do not take it seriously.”

A federal survey showed that two-fifths of harassment complaints are being ignored. Couple the issue of not investigating complaints with the increasing reports of harassment and misconduct in the media, and now is the perfect time for Parliament to look at strengthening the protection from harassment it offers its employees. Labour Minister Patty Hajdu wants to give the public confidence that inappropriate office behaviour will not be tolerated.

Be Prepared

The most proactive way that your organization can prepare for an onslaught of harassment complaints is to already have a workplace violence and harassment policy and program in place. Beyond simply having it developed, it needs to be abided by, enforced regularly, and reviewed at least annually to ensure that it is still working as intended. There needs to be a program in place that aims to protect workers from violence and harassment. The program should feature an investigative process, and all claims should be investigated and documented, with discipline being applied where necessary.

For employers who have not yet prepared a workplace violence and harassment program, it is recommended that one is developed and enforced immediately, as it is a legislated duty of the employer in Ontario under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

When a complaint is brought forward, keep the following in mind:

  • Complaints are confidential, and should only be disclosed to individuals involved in the investigation and/or complaint
  • If a victim comes to you to discuss a harassment incident, show compassion and be supportive – it is not easy to come forward
  • Ensure that the victim and alleged offender are kept informed during the investigation process
  • Investigations need to be undertaken in a timely manner, and they need to be conducted in an unbiased and fair fashion
  • Be sure to document every aspect of the investigation
  • Conduct witness interviews, if applicable
  • Upon finding a contravention of the policy, be sure to enforce and abide by the policy and applicable disciplinary measures as outlined within
  • Keep the victim informed of the investigation findings and results
  • Do not tolerate reprisals for any worker bringing forth a complaint

Gone are the days when harassment is tolerated as “locker room talk,” or blamed on the victim’s inability to “take a joke.” A new era is upon us, a welcome one that no longer tolerates gross misconduct. For victims, it is finally a time when coming forward won’t result in potential job loss, social ostracizing, or shame. #metoo is sending a strong message: you are not alone. Harassment will not be tolerated. We are in this together.

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator

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