Type: Law Bulletins
Date: 11/15/2018

Learning from Google: Evolving Practices for Protecting Employees from Harassment

If you “googled” Google in the last week, you may have come across news of a significant walkout conducted by Google employees across the world. Employees were upset about the company’s response to several high profile harassment allegations and sought change at the corporate level with respect to the company’s handling of internal harassment allegations. Employees believed that Google wasn’t doing enough to head off inappropriate and, sometimes unlawful, behavior. 

In response to the massive demonstration, Google agreed to several internal changes, including more transparency with respect to investigations, updating the ways employees could allege harassment, expanding its use of harassment-free workplace training and removing a requirement that employees be bound to arbitration in the event an employee wasn’t satisfied with Google’s actions in the face of a harassment claim. 

While it may not be necessary for your company to take all of the actions outlined by Google in its response to its employees, this recent activity is a good reminder that companies should make certain that its harassment-free workplace policy is not only lawful but that it is also perceived by your employees as thorough enough to protect their rights. If you haven’t had a recent review of your employee handbook, your employment attorney will be able to update your policies to ensure that they are lawful and reflect the best practices for avoiding harassment. 

Unfortunately for Google, however, being in compliance with the law wasn’t sufficient and it may not be for your company either. You should carefully consider these issues so you aren’t relying on just having a lawful anti-harassment policy. Best practices now include all-hands training every year or two (by experienced internal HR representatives or outside counsel) to reinforce your company’s desire to have a workplace free from discrimination. Larger companies have established Chief Diversity Officers or have combined roles to assign such duties to an existing C-level executive. Others are regularly asking employees to participate on Diversity and Inclusion Committees. 

It should be noted that taking such actions isn’t just “litigation avoidance” at this point.  Many companies have difficulty finding and retaining good employees, so maintaining a strong track record of prohibiting unlawful behavior is a hiring and retention tool. Good companies should encourage legitimate claims of harassment and discrimination as a way to weed out problem employees and “serial harassers” before they drive away a number of good employees.

While eradicating discrimination and harassment in the workplace has always been a great practice, never before has there been such a compelling business purpose for creating a workplace free from such unlawful behavior. If Google’s recent experience has taught us anything, it’s that employees, prospective employees and just about everyone else is watching.

Taft employment attorneys offer clients extensive experience and innovation in the wide range of legal services needed to manage the complex relationship between employers and employees.

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