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Whether you are a business owner or an employee in Birmingham, your response to sexual harassment in the workplace matters. Here are some ways we can all move forward and get help when needed.
2017 was a lot of things, but we’ll all remember it for the year of the #MeToo movement, where women came together in a big way. We told one other (and the world) that we are not alone, and we won’t stay silent about sexual misconduct anymore.
I’ve been working since I was 15 (restaurants and newspapers mostly), and I can say that at 42, it does feel like a new time. But now that our message is starting to be heard, how do we all keep moving forward together?
A Call To Action
Women, men, employees, business owners—we all have to communicate with one another and spend a LOT of time together on the job. I recently spoke with April Benetollo, CEO of Momentum, Birmingham’s women’s leadership program.
Benetollo noted that while older women in the workforce have been dealing with sexual harassment for years, their experiences now as leaders put them in a valuable position. One where they understand both sides of the coin.
“What we find very often is that women (in leadership positions) are willing to be the go between. To say ‘I understand the plight of someone who has experienced this (sexual harassment), and I understand the repercussions to the business.’
“I think women in leadership positions have the power to move this conversation into something that can actually be done.”
So, What Do We Do Now?
To talk about some ways to move forward, I called Temple Trueblood, a senior associate with Wiggins Childs Pantazis Fisher & Goldfarb, LLC.
Full disclosure: she is my friend. She’s also a Birmingham attorney who specializes in labor law and civil rights. Does she handle a lot of sexual harassment cases? Yep.
Squashing Sexual Harassment
Trueblood noted that business with 15 employees or more, the federal law (Title VII) applies to you, and you need to be taking steps or precautions to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Have a sexual harassment policy, written, that you provide to your employees, that sets out what sexual harassment is, that sets out a very clear way to report sexual harassment, who you report it to if you think it’s happening to you at work.
“You also need a section that lets your employees know that if they do report sexual harassment at work , they won’t be retaliated against,” Trueblood said.
“This policy needs to be given to the employees, and the best course of action is to offer training for the employees. Also have the employees sign off on the policy, acknowledging that they understand it. The business should keep the signed policy in the employee file so that there is a record of it.”
If You’ve Been Harassed At Work
“If you feel you’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace or if you have witnessed some kind of conduct that you think is harassing to someone else, the first thing you need to do is to tell them to stop the behavior. Tell them that,” Trueblood said.
“The other thing you need to do, that the law requires, is to go find your handbook. Find out how your company has set out to report sexual harassment. If the policy says to call a 1-800 number and report it, you call that number. Follow the policy they’ve set out.”
While these actions may seem obvious, it’s important to understand the role of documenting what’s happened to you. That way, if you do end up in court, there is a record of your actions as a company or an employee.
For those out there who are too scared to come forward, I hope the #MeToo movement will help give you some courage. If you were harassed at work and don’t feel you can talk about it, remember:
- You can file an online complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Call Birmingham’s Crisis Center anytime, at 205-323-7273.