With this continuous flurry of sexual harassment news impacting Hollywood, Washington D.C. and other governments such as California, I can’t help but wonder, why now? The law of sexual harassment has been well established for at least the last twenty years! I am proud to say that my experience with many of our Alaskan companies and corporations demonstrate most address such issues promptly and professionally. Credit goes to EEO training and enforcement; excellent legal counsel; and, excellent corporate governance and leadership.
Federal laws, as well as the vast majority of State laws prohibiting discrimination, contain provisions to protect complainants from retaliation for reporting discrimination. The goal is to improve the workplace culture by encouraging the reporting of events such as sexual harassment by giving complainants additional causes of action for retaliatory conduct. Damage awards could include reparations for lost or reduced wages and/or the loss of future wages. With the addition of provisions for the award of attorney’s fees and potential employer liability for failure to act, the statutory scheme has been relatively effective at the business and corporate levels.
So, back to the question: Why now? My co-consultant, Scott Stender made a pithy comment while discussing this question. “Retaliation addresses the present but cannot remedy the future.”
Anecdotally, based on my arduous review of all the media accounts discussing the recent allegations of sexual harassment in Hollywood, the media, and the government, there is one common thread – the future dreams and aspirations of anyone reporting sexual harassment would be put at significant risk.
On the government side, being labeled a “problem” or a “non-team player” can be fatal to a new employee’s future. This gives public officials a great deal of power and regretfully some were not afraid to use it. Based on these recent media reports, the only consequences politicians suffered for sexually harassing behavior is a secret settlement with taxpayer money. What message did this send? On the Hollywood and media side getting “blackballed’ is a real threat. Young women seeking roles or positions in the movie and media world are literally at the mercy of the few who have the power to decide what their future will look like. This is a huge “power differential” ripe for abuse.
To this point in the above-discussed environments, it has not been safe to report harassment. The consequences of reporting were severe and the legal remedy of retaliation inadequate under these more unique circumstances. So, why now? It is about safety in numbers. It is not just one economically disadvantaged and vulnerable victim raising his or her voice but multiple victims with a bullhorn. Discrediting a few is much more difficult that discrediting many.
Is there a solution? Power is easily abused when it is concentrated in one place. Any solutions need to dilute these disproportionate concentrations of power in only a few to remove the potential for abuse.
Lynne Curry writes a column on workplace issues. She is the author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and Regional Director of Training & Business Consulting for The Growth Co. an Avitus Group company. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or at http://www.workplacecoachblog.com.