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Family Offices Must Stand Strong Against Retaliation

A Time's Up activist and actor teamed up last year to launch the Rights of Women Sexual Harassment at Work hotline. According to statistics gathered from the legal advice hotline, many female callers experienced negative employment actions after reporting sexual harassment.

"We finally have a clearer picture of how women are experiencing systematic sexual abuse and discrimination in the workplace. Our data exposes the extent of the harm women are experiencing," said the senior legal advisor for the hotline.

Of the women who called the hotline, more than 20 percent were terminated or resigned. Fifteen percent said the stress and other mental health issues they suffered from the harassment and discrimination forced them to take off sick from work. Nearly 60 percent of callers said that rejecting or submitting to sexual harassment or reporting wrongdoing led them to receive less favorable treatment.

Retaliation experienced by callers included being threatened with dismissal, denied a promotion, and not having claims investigated. "More than a fifth of callers to sexual harassment advice line forced out of work" (Aug. 25, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

Retaliating against a staff member who reports, experiences, or witnesses sexual harassment is prohibited by federal law (applies to employers with 15 or more employees) and by state laws (often applies to employers with fewer than 15).

Family employers must never “punish” the victim of sexual harassment by terminating or demoting the staffer; refusing to investigate his or her allegations; or otherwise subjecting the individual to retaliation.

Even if the underlying claim of sexual harassment should be determined to be without merit, it is important for family employers to understand that it a retaliation claim can survive on its own.

Monitor interactions between managers and other staff and the victim following a report of harassment for any signs of retaliation. Immediately step in and take remedial action if you suspect retaliation has occurred.

Here are some more ways family employers can help prevent retaliation:

·      Include an anti-retaliation provision in your equal employment policy and other policies prohibiting wrongdoing.

·      Provide more than one channel for staff to report wrongdoing, including to an outside party. Allow for anonymous reporting.

·      Provide training for managers on retaliation and the rights of staff who has made claims of wrongdoing.

·      Use a trained investigator to immediately investigate all claims of interference and retaliation.

·      Make certain that all staff that exercises a protected right or makes a good faith report of wrongdoing is protected from retaliation.

·      Evaluate closely any decision that disciplines or terminates a staff member who has made a legal claim, testified or witnessed wrongdoing, or is related to a complainant that has made claim.

·      Consult your attorney before taking an adverse employment action against any staff member.

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