Harvey Weinstein fired for violating company’s code of conduct
The unfolding sexual harassment scandal involving movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is a story Hollywood probably hoped would be a box office bomb. No chance. As more and more accusers come forth with sexual harassment complaints, it has become an ethics and compliance blockbuster.
In reporting that Weinstein had been fired by The Weinstein Company, the production and distribution company he co-founded with his brother, the New York Times interviewed a board member, who said Weinstein had violated the company’s code of conduct. While the board member did not name the specific violation, media coverage is focused on multiple allegations of sexual harassment going back decades.
As the Weinstein case plays out, organizations should take a cue to update their code of conduct and anti-harassment policies and training to highlight the importance of preventing sexual harassment and other behavior that can contribute to a hostile work environment.
One early takeaway from the Weinstein case is that for a code of conduct to actually mean something, it must apply to everyone – especially the company co-founder. Start by defining standards of acceptable and unacceptable behavior – and then put processes and training in place to reinforce those standards. Then be prepared to take action when any employee violates them.
Casting couch not just for Hollywood
Long before Weinstein, the casting couch – the practice of offering actors and actresses roles in exchange for sex – has been well-known in Hollywood. The concept of the casting couch is, unfortunately, no stranger to industries and organizations outside of the entertainment business. Instead of the term casting couch, the EEOC uses quid pro quo – this for that – and hostile work environment to define forms of sexual harassment. Both forms of harassment are illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Some common examples of quid pro quo harassment include:
- Asking a job applicant for some type of sexual favor in exchange for a job
- Asking for a massage in exchange for a positive performance review
- Insisting on sex in exchange for a raise or promotion
- Threatening to fire someone who won’t accept a date or other favor
A hostile work environment can develop and perpetuate when unwelcome sexual conduct becomes so severe or pervasive that it interferes with a person’s job performance, or creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”
Common examples of behaviors that can lead to hostile work environment include:
- Emailing jokes of a sexual nature on a company device
- Engaging in lewd conversations and talking about one’s sex life or fantasies
- Commenting on someone’s looks or physical attributes
- Extending a social invitation that is clearly unwanted
- Touching, hugging or any other physical contact
- Staring at someone or making sexual gestures
- Displaying sexual images at work or on a company device
- Using inappropriate expressions, such as “honey” or “baby”
Whether your organization makes movies or marshmallows, there is no better time to review the sexual harassment and retaliation sections in your code of conduct policies and training. Organizations and individuals who participate in harassment risk millions in legal liability and an onslaught of bad publicity, which can impact productivity, morale, recruiting, turnover and sales. The message should be clear: all employees, frontline managers and senior executives are accountable for engaging in any form of sexual harassment or failing to report it. When it comes to workplace harassment, there should be no sequels.