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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, December 03, 2017 1:00 am

Harassment claims provide valuable lesson

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Amazing, yet not in a good way.

The stories that continue to surface involving sexual harassment and assault claims continue to surprise and disappoint me. While many of the accused have not had their day in court, the outpouring of claims is alarming.

It's particularly disconcerting when involving those in leadership because that can make it more difficult for victims to feel comfortable speaking out.

The accusations have touched nearly every area, from politics and government to the workplace. There have been reports of allegations against some of the most recognizable faces, from John Conyers to Matt Lauer.

The depth of the sexual harassment problem is not new, and yet some of the recent revelations represent ripe teaching opportunities – beyond human resource departments and management levels.

Sexual harassment and assault should not be tolerated – anywhere, ever.

John Alan Doran, a partner at the law firm Sherman & Howard in Phoenix, regularly represents employers in areas including employment discrimination, wrongful termination litigation and other areas.

Doran, through an email alert to media last week, said companies shouldn't be so quick to fire an employee based on allegations alone.

“The #metoo movement is growing daily, as high-profile celebrities, politicians, and leaders of industry get called out by alleged victims,” he said in a statement. “It's critically important for employers to react, but not overreact, to the movement.”

When confronted with a harassment claim, an employer should not rush to judgment or “cave amidst the weight of numerous complainants,” he said. “The key was and still is to conduct a very prompt, thorough investigation that reaches solid conclusions based on the facts available.”

During a telephone interview Thursday, Doran said he suspects the #metoo movement – encouraging victims to speak up, realizing there are numerous victims – is likely to cause a surge in complaints over the next 18 months.

Employers can be proactive when it comes to culture and training.

One step, Doran said, involves moving beyond traditional modules or computer software programs that are difficult to gauge employee engagement. Sometimes employees are required to sit at a computer and click a few buttons to pass as training.

While most large employers offer training to warn again harassment and related problems, Doran said, some mid-size and smaller companies may not.

“I think first and foremost it becomes a matter of tone at the top. It's one thing for senior leadership to give lip service. It's another matter to live it and breathe it,” Doran said.

And while he cautions against snap judgments, Doran doesn't advocate pretending problems don't exist.

“Training only goes so far,” he said, “if your culture looks the other way.”

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at lisagreen@jg.net. Lead On also appears online as a blog at www.journalgazette.net/blog/lead-on/