Fame and fortune are not excuses when it comes to getting away with sexual harassment. The recent $50 000 fine handed down to Brett Favre of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings has turned into an even larger problem. Two more women have spoken out about their own experiences, claiming to have been sexually harassed by the famed quarterback. Other celebrities – actors, musicians and pro athletes; have also encountered their fair share of sexual harassment lawsuits. Whether or not they were found guilty is another story, but the fact that they faced the accusations in the first place takes a toll on their reputation. The same rules apply for businesses. No matter how big or how loved your brand is, sexual harassment allegations can knock you down quickly. Many of the lessons learned from celebrity sexual harassment scandals apply to the workplace.
Normally I write “Lessons Learned” posts about groundbreaking scandals at well-known companies. This time I wanted to focus on cases and investigations involving famous individuals in order to prove that regardless of who you are, you’re NOT invincible to sexual harassment allegations. Your name doesn’t blind the fact that you will be called out for actions that make someone feel uncomfortable. The same applies in the workplace. Just because you are a big shot employee from corporate or someone’s manager, you don’t have the right to get away with inappropriate actions.
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1. Gender doesn’t matter
Sexual harassment is still sexual harassment regardless of who the target is. Unfortunately, there are still many workplaces that are dominated by a particular gender. In these types of environments, sexual harassment training is that much more important. As an employer, you’ll likely have to be upfront and spell out actions that cross the line into sexual harassment.
2. Your reputation will suffer
Brett Favre was positioned to be a football legacy. According to former NFL player Kurt Warner, people have to think back past all of the recent events to remember Favre for the football great he was – and I agree. It will be hard for many to remember Favre’s achievements on the field without recalling his unwise decisions off the field. The same rules apply in the workplace. If you’re an employee found guilty of sexual harassment, it won’t be your top sales or million dollar ideas that you’re remembered by. Companies with a culture of sexual harassment suffer the consequences of a poor reputation by:
- Failing to retain employees
- Failure to attract top level talent.
- Public boycotting/ poor public image.
- … and more.
3. Cooperate during investigations
The NFL stated that Favre’s $50 000 fine wasn’t because they concluded he was guilty of sexually harassing Sterger, but because he failed to cooperate with the investigation (seems a bit fishy if you ask me). Failure to cooperate with an investigation usually signals that the accused is trying to hide something – their guilt. However, just because a company or individual is willing to cooperate with an investigation, it doesn’t mean they are innocent. In the US, companies that cooperate during an investigation and prove they had measures in place to prevent these types of events will be given additional consideration during the decision of their sentence. The Siemens case is a great example of this. Siemens employees worked with investigators to gather evidence, provide statements and cater to additional requests during a bribery investigation. The end result: a lesser fine and amnesty for certain employees who shared information.