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Not #MeToo.

Byline: Adina Genn

With new disclosures seemingly every week, the #MeToo movement continues to offer moments of reckoning for survivors of sexual harassment and discrimination. Thats serving as a wake-up call for business leaders, regardless of the industry, from media, to government, food and other industries. For many, its led to the question: How to create a workplace culture that does not foster, invite or permit sexual harassment or misconduct in the workplace? That kind of work environment, experts say, starts at the top. It goes to diversity in the workplace, said Kenneth Novikoff, a partner at the Uniondale law firm Rivkin Radlers employment and labor practice group. At Rivkin Radler, there are senior partners who are women he added. So if a woman feels shes been subjected to sexual harassment or misconduct, there are multiple avenues where she can get it addressed. Diversity along with a culture of respect and workplace-behavior training are just some of the components of a healthy work environment, experts say. And reported problems should be swiftly investigated, and with the help of counsel. Still, in the wake of the #MeToo and now #TimesUp the hashtag for the legal defense fund for those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault or abuse at work the complaints show no signs of letting up. We see this everywhere, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic recently told Law360. This happens to women in workplaces all over the place. This predicament prompted a freewheeling conversation on what business leaders need to know to cultivate a workplace of inclusion took place. The dialog took place at a recent leadership roundtable organized by Long Island Business News, where law firm sponsors shared a big picture view of key areas where businesses should focus.Joe Dowd, LIBNs editor, moderated the discussion. For instance, at Rivkin Radler, Novikoff noted that the firm, with its diverse leadership, provides a safe space for women to complain if needed. It should go without saying that quid-pro-quo propositions for example, a supervisor demanding sex from an employee in exchange for the prospect of a promotion would violate a firms human resources policy. But as recent news headlines have proven, there are always those individuals who think they can get away with it, Novikoff pointed out. And as incidents from The Weinstein Company, NBC, and elsewhere indicate, there was a barrier or a perception that some of the people in the organization were untouchable, despite policies and even investigations, said John Diviney, a partner in the Employment & Labor Practice Group at Rivkin Radler. But reporting sexual harassment or sexual misconduct are issues where you want to make sure in any organization that the women or other victims have an ability to complain, are treated fairly and that action will be taken, Diviney said, noting that victims at some organizations have said they didnt file official complaints out of concerns of losing their jobs. They dont want their career hurt, Diviney said.   Culture of respect Experts point out that while policies and procedures are important, the culture at a workplace must be one of respect. To Christine Ippolito, principal of Deer Park-based Compass Workforce Solutions, which provides HR expertise to small businesses, a culture of respect is one that is open to communication from any level of employee. In companies where there isnt that level of communication, the leadership team often is not actively engaged with all employees people wont tell you [about a problem] because they wont think you want to hear it, Ippolito noted. Ingredients of a respectful workplace culture include civility and professional courtesy, Ippolito said. And acknowledging others and providing the sense that leadership values so that workers at any level feel comfortable sharing opinions go a long way. It flows from the top, Novikoff said. If the top sets the example, everyone will follow. But for companies without a formal HR department, or with remote locations where there are fewer eyes in the office, its harder to implement, Diviney said. In these circumstances, the person at the top might designate a chief lieutenant to hear these types of complaints and act upon them. Without a culture of respect, however, trouble can escalate, with bullying and an environment thats not unlike a battle zone. Ippolito pointed out that sexual harassment is not about sex, its about power, where someone is angry or hurt acts out to get what they want. And as some liken marijuana to a gateway drug that leads to substance abuse, an uncivil work environment can be a gateway to harassment, she said. Its allowing behavior to be bad, and when you allow bad behavior, it allows people to push the envelope. Still, when theres stress, no one individual acts appropriately at all times, Novikoff noted. I always try to be more cognizant. So, in the rare event where he has spotted an employee not acting nicely to a subordinate, Novikoff will let that person know that this is not what we do here. Dignity and respect, he added, improves efficiency when those things become the norm. Action, training are key Once a complaint is filed, it should be investigated appropriately, with discipline applied equally, regardless of who the offending individual is, according to Rivkin Radler. Counsel should be involved early, especially if a complaint involves senior management. Routine training for all employees is key so that employees gain an understanding of harassment. Consider for example, an off-color joke. The person telling the joke may know that people hes speaking with wont be offended, but that doesnt mean that the person sitting three cubicles away isnt offended, Novikoff said. Someone who doesnt understand the relationship will [consider] that a problem. Employees, especially those new to the workforce, may not yet be able to determine what kind of actions or comments cross the line. But, Novikoff said, thats where the training comes in.

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Publication:Long Island Business News
Date:Jan 26, 2018
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