An attorney with employment litigation experience has advice for small businesses after the downfall of Andrew Cuomo.
The former New York Governor resigned last month amid sexual harassment allegations.
“Times have changed,” writes Peter J. Glennon, founder of the Glennon Law Firm. “ “Boorish behavior may have been ignored in the past. However today you will have to answer for engaging in behavior that harasses or discriminates, especially against women. They will no longer tolerate it.”
Business Lessons from Downfall of Andrew Cuomo
To that end, he’s put together some lessons small businesses should be aware of.
Lesson 1: Take Social Media Complaints Seriously
First, Glennon points to the advent of social media. He says that medium allows more stories to be shared. And more people who are being discriminated against or harassed to find strength in numbers.
“In many ways, social media is the new public square.”
He says there’s a kind of domino effect highlighting harassment. Prior to platforms like Twitter, beleaguered women told family members or close friends, but they could feel alone in the workplace.
“But you can read on social media that other women are being harassed. Whether that’s in the same company or by the same person, you may feel more like speaking out,” he says. “You may realize that it wasn’t just you or that it wasn’t a fluke event. You may mobilize support sympathetic to your cause.”
That means any small businesses that sees a complaint posted online should take it seriously. However, Glennon says business owners shouldn’t directly respond to false online grievances. Those should be treated like a formal complaint instead.
“The business owner should first consult an experienced attorney, who can explain their legal and strategic options,” he says.
Lesson 2: Be Proactive
He also suggests that staying ahead of any issues is a three-pronged approach.
“The best way to be proactive is to be aware of laws. Be courteous to all employees, and ensure proper training, at least annually.”
And that also means steering away from illegal or disrespectful behaviors.
“ For example, don’t start monitoring your employee’s social media. If a complaint is made and brought to your attention, then address it through your policies.
Lesson 3: Have The Right Experts Onboard
Keeping pace of the harassment landscape is important too. That means having a good relationship with an employment attorney and/or an HR professional. This cost can save your business money in the long run.
“The expense of having professional advisors can be greatly less than the costs of violating the laws.”
Lesson 4: Be Aware of The Changing Standards
Legal standards have changed in places like New York State. Victims no longer have to prove the harassment was severe. The standard doesn’t compare one individual to other employees. New laws focus on the behavior itself.
In New York State, the law also extends beyond employees to vendors and contractors who work with the small business. All companies need to be aware of any changes that affect them regardless of their location.
Lesson 5: Know How The Media Has Changed
“Today’s media, following the #MeToo movement, is more likely to believe allegations and to pursue a story,” Glennon says.
And small businesses need to be aware of the big difference between the courtroom and the online world.
“With social and other alternative media, a single allegation against a small business may have a greater impact on the business and its reputation.
“The law may hold a person innocent until proven guilty. But the media and society may view things differently today. And once allegations are out on the Internet, it is near impossible to remove them.”
by Rob Starr