Today the hottest topic in the news is sexual harassment. Every hour CNN and other news outlets are announcing another high profile person who is being accused of sexual harassment at some level. Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey are just a few of the names I heard just today. As much as it makes for an interesting news story, the reality is that employees who commit sexual harassment are committing crimes and possibly putting your dealership in financial jeopardy.
Is your dealership at risk? If you think your dealership is not at risk because you are a small tight-knit group, you are dead wrong. Frequently I receive calls from dealers that have found themselves in a human resource nightmare regarding claims of sexual harassment. It is real, it is scary and sexual harassment claims can cost your dealership dearly.
The following recommendations will help you lay the groundwork for you to protect your dealership. These six guidelines may not prevent all claims of sexual harassment but they do provide you with certain assurances that you are taking steps to prove that you are trying to provide a dealership environment that is free from sexual harassment.
- Post your state’s laws on sexual harassment. Most states have sexual harassment posters that you may be legally required to post. Make sure that you post them in a highly visible area so that all of your employees have exposure to them. This is an elementary defense that you need to implement immediately. In the future you may be asked to defend your dealership and by posting legally required posters you are laying the groundwork for such a defense.
- Update your dealership’s anti-sexual harassment policy yearly. The legal environment of business changes quickly and so should your dealership’s policy on anti-sexual harassment. We at PMC strongly suggest that you update your policy on an annual basis and have all of your employees sign off on the acceptance of such policy. Make sure you keep the signature page in their human resource file for future reference. Make the review of your policy on anti-sexual harassment a part of your yearly strategic planning process.
- Training, training and more training! Believe it or not many employees, including your supervisors, do not know what sexual harassment really is. So if most of your staff don’t know what sexual harassment is, how can they identify it or prevent it? The answer is simple and it consists of ongoing training on the identification and prevention of sexual harassment in your dealership. Training teaches your employees about what your dealership’s policies are and how to deal with despicable acts of sexual harassment. Train your managers on what your policies are and on how to deal with specific complaints of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment training should be ongoing and not an isolated incident. By having ongoing sexual harassment training you are proving to outsiders, perhaps a jury, that your dealership took definitive steps to prevent sexual harassment in your dealership. Also, by conducting ongoing training on this topic, you can limit possible punitive damages or eliminate sexual harassment in your business altogether.
- Take complaints of sexual harassment seriously. When an employee complains about sexual harassment don’t just blow it off. Make sure that you take all complaints about sexual harassment seriously. Assure the employee that you are thankful for them letting you know and communicate that you will conduct an investigation. Make sure that you keep the employee in the loop by communicating with him or her on your findings. Do not placate the employee but take his or her complaints seriously. Many times further legal escalation can be avoided by taking any and all sexual harassment complaints seriously.
- Conduct an investigation on all complaints of sexual harassment. Conducting investigations of sexual harassment can be complicated. Always get guidance from a human resource expert or legal counsel. Whether you actually conduct an investigation or not can determine whether the employee consults with an attorney, state agency or federal agency. Do not be shortsighted and think the issue will resolve itself on its own because they never do.
- Avoid any and all retaliation. One of the biggest problems in sexual harassment claims is not the actual claim itself but it is retaliation against the person making the complaint or witnesses of such conduct. Make sure that you provide protections for people making official complaints and anyone else who participates in the investigation by providing an anti-retaliation policy to protect them and the dealership. Just like harassment claims, retaliation should be taken very seriously.
Every day we hear of more and more instances of high profile cases of sexual harassment. These reminders should make us think of what processes and procedures we need to have in place at the dealership level to protect our employees and other concerned parties. The above recommendations can help limit your exposure legally and help support a healthy dealership environment. Also keep in mind that you should always consult with a human resource expert and/or an attorney should the need arise. It is always best to engage with legal counsel as soon as a sexual harassment claim is lodged. Never try to go it alone because I can guarantee it that your insurance company will lose their mind!
Remember, it is just good business.
Forrest Flinn, MBA, PHR, SMS has been in the motorcycle industry for more than 20 years and has been a true student and leader serving in various capacities. He previously worked as an implementation consultant for Lightspeed and as a general manager with P&L responsibility for a large metro multi-line dealership. Currently Forrest is the managing partner and chief visionary for a consulting firm that specializes in outsourced accounting, human resources, social media strategy, dealership operations consulting and Lightspeed/EVO training.