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  • What HR Departments Can Learn from the Weinstein Company?

    As the dust continues to settle on the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations, the future for both Weinstein and the company that bears his name is far from certain. Since the New York Times published an article detailing shocking allegations against Weinstein of a history of sexual harassment, the former movie producer has since checked himself into a treatment center and has begun the process of planning his next legal steps.  One of the first legal moves Weinstein has made, was suing his former company for wrongful termination citing clauses in his employment contract meant to protect him, as discussed in our previous blog.

    As for the Weinstein Company itself, those who remain are scrambling in an effort to try and save the company in any way possible. In the wake of the scandal, the company has faced major financial troubles that have led it to seek large loans as a life line to save the movie studio.  The company’s legal team is also preparing to defend against not just the suit from Weinstein, but also his accusers who believe the company should be held responsible for the way they handled numerous complaints of sexual harassment over the years.  In addition to the financial and legal troubles facing the Weinstein Company, this scandal has become a public relations nightmare for the company’s board and human resources department.  Four members of the board have already resigned amid allegations that they were aware of Weinstein’s conduct and actively protected him.  Others have called into question how the Weinstein Company’s HR department could have allowed the alleged behavior to continue even after numerous complaints were filed.  Specifically, the company’s policies and procedures related to investigations of such conduct are being scrutinized.

    As details continue to come to light as to what the higher-ups at the Weinstein Company knew and didn’t know about Weinstein’s actions, it is clear that they grossly failed in their reaction to sexual harassment allegations. This situation can provide a number of key lessons for all types of organizations in the proper way to handle sexual harassment allegations and potential mistakes that should be avoided.

    One thing HR departments can take away from the Weinstein scandal is that no one in an organization should be deemed too important to be disciplined for sexual harassment. Clearly from the way the situation was handled, the Weinstein Company felt Harvey was “too big” to terminate for his inappropriate behavior.  Every company should have a clearly outlined sexual harassment policy that has the full support of everyone in the company from the CEO on down.  Furthermore, everyone should be held accountable, even if it may lead to some tough decisions.

    In addition, organizations should be sure to encourage those who are victims of sexual harassment to come forward. Many of the women who have now made claims against Weinstein stated they were too afraid to come forward initially due to concerns that it may harm their respective careers.  Organizations should make clear that anyone who comes forward with a claim of sexual harassment will be fully protected from any potentially adverse employment action.

    Finally, education is key in helping prevent sexual harassment. As shocking as it may be, many people are still unaware of just how serious even seemingly minor instances of sexual harassment are.  This line of thinking can lead some, including executives at major companies, into thinking that it is best to sweep claims of sexual harassment under the rug and forget about them.  However, if a company can help to educate all of its employees on its sexual harassment policy and the ramifications that come with it, it could go a long way to curbing instances of sexual harassment in the workplace and provide a defense for the company should a claim arise.

    If the Weinstein Company has shown us anything, it is that any company, even a major movie studio, can face serious consequences for failure to properly address claims of sexual harassment.

    If you, or your organization, have any questions concerning employment related issues, please contact Cynthia A. Augello at 516-357-3753 or via email at caugello@cullenanddykman.com.

    Thank you to Ryan Soebke, a law clerk with Cullen and Dykman LLP, for his assistance with this post.