Why no company can now ignore sexual misconduct revelations

As waves of sexual misconduct allegations sweep through business and politics, no firm can now be excused for pretending not to know.

Nov 21, 2017
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As well the overriding obligation to protect staff, employers should not forget the demoralising impact that such a poisoned atmosphere can have on company performance. And if they still claim innocence, then several FT articles provide ample examples of misconduct and how victims can respond.

Laura Noonan surveys FT readers’ ‘allegations of serious crimes, including rape, other physical assault and stalking’ and ‘systematic verbal abuse and objectification’ which have prompted workers to leave their jobs. Equally troubling is that female staff too often report that ‘employers ignored serious allegations and that the perpetrators had gone on to greater careers while their victims were sidelined or sacked.’ As Emma Jacobs, FT work and careers columnist, writes: ‘Sexual harassment — whether reported or unreported — can damage women’s careers by diminishing their confidence and enthusiasm.’ …women typically keep quiet, due to fears about being believed, retaliation and harm to their careers. Others are legally bound to silence by non-disclosure agreements.’ But women (and a few men too) can fight back. This practical guide for victims advises as first steps:

  • ‘Talk to someone outside work whom you trust to provide you with support. You may also wish to consider making a report to the police.’
  • ‘Make a note of what happened as soon as possible after the event — if you can email it to yourself from your private email account, that provides you with a date of the note.’
  • ‘Review your employer’s harassment policy and contact HR or an appropriate manager to report the incident as soon as possible.’
  • ‘Consider seeking legal advice within three months of the incident in case matters are not resolved within work.’

Lawyers add: ‘Ignoring it usually doesn’t end well… Reporting triggers your employer’s duty to investigate, and can protect you later if you experience retaliation for complaining… Except in rare circumstances, don’t resign — and certainly not without advice of counsel. Resignation can negatively affect your rights.’

The fight is on. The FT’s US political correspondent Courtney Weaver reports on the wider #MeToomovement, though points to difficulties in creating ‘a movement that is inclusive of experiences that range from unwanted leg touching to violent rape, without losing the distinction between these transgressions.’ There is also the fears that ‘the near daily deluge of allegations will ultimately bring about a kind of fatigue.’

Finally, an ‘optimistic’ finale to the Weinstein story, according to Lex, would be a female-led takeover of the company. Unfortunately, the producer’s own stake remains a key obstacle to a happier conclusion.

Paul Lewis

Editorial director, Headspring

Paul Lewis is a writer and editor, specialising in business, management, economics and politics.