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While the #MeToo phenomenon ripples through every sector of the economy, revealing the extent of sexual harassment on the job, or, more accurately “garnering public attention for what most of us already knew happened anyway” — it seems that clients have largely failed to grasp the importance of the discussion for their own companies. As one might expect, there’s a profound sense of “it can’t happen here” out there and everywhere that sentiment turns up, “it” is almost assuredly already happening.
That’s the conclusion of a recent survey taken by LegalZoom. Its Reality of the Modern Workplace: Understanding Employee Empowerment report asked workers directly about their employers’ approach to the serious issue of harassment. The results weren’t pretty.
LegalZoom research found nearly one in 10 American workers (9%) reported that company standards and employee procedures are never discussed…
On the one hand, that’s a disturbing statistic, indicative of a toxic cocktail of apathy and silence. On the other hand, if current company standards and procedures are woefully broken, then maybe it’s for the best not to talk about them, right?
* About one in nine (12%) have witnessed harassment in the workplace, but felt they would be penalized if they challenged it. Less than half (44%) of workers think that their company can adequately handle workplace issues in all cases
* Among those who have ever dealt with a workplace issue, almost half (42%) have confided in a coworker, yet only a quarter (27%) have actually flagged their concerns to the management
While it may seem crass to see this issue through the lens of building new business, it’s the burden of the profession to address the unpleasant realities of our time… and then profit off of them. Every lawyer should read these survey results as an invitation to pitch new and existing clients on the legal counsel you can provide in addressing this festering problem that continues to expose clients to substantial liability. Stroock & Stroock has already announced a new group headed by former SDNY Judge Shira Scheindlin and former NY Attorney General Robert Abrams, conducting internal investigations into alleged sexual harassment. It’s time for lawyers to do something about the problem.
One might say, “but Joe, lawyers have been at the forefront of addressing sexual harassment allegations for years!” And this is true. But the prevailing wisdom is that “arranging hush money” and “hiring Israeli spies” might see diminishing demand in the legal sector going forward. On the upswing will be groups like Stroock & Stroock’s that will investigate claims as neutral arbiters rather than advocates for company leadership. But before even reaching that point, companies need to understand the role lawyers, particularly employment lawyers can play in shaping prophylactic measures, procedures for redress, and generally spurring an overhaul of workplace culture.