As part of the “Me Too” movement, people talk a lot about gender equality, especially in the workplace. While a lot of companies have made tremendous progress in promoting gender equality and female leadership, there are still lots of things that can easily go wrong for female employees. As the gender gap continues to exist and is even getting worse with COVID-19’s impact, what do female employees evaluate and do to protect their rights?
Working remotely may have been a double-edged sword for this potential cause of action. On the one hand, there is less face-to-face interaction, hence less opportunity for any kind of inappropriate physical contact or advances. On the other hand, because we are blurring the boundaries of work and life, it may be easier than ever to make a seemingly random comment about someone’s attire or even bedroom setting showing up in the zoom calls.
Here is a reminder of the common list of inappropriate behavior based on a “hostile work environment”:
- Commenting on employees’ appearance or attractiveness
- Discussing anything related to sexual life in front of an employee or asking an employee about her sexual life
- Sharing inappropriate pictures or jokes
- Sending suggestive texts or emails
- Sending unwanted gifts of romantic nature
- Spreading sexual rumors about an employee
- Unwanted hugs or physical touching
- Sexist comments or actions (when not invited to join the same meetings with their male co-workers while doing the same job, for example)
There is another category of sexual harassment called quid pro quo harassment. Basically, a manager requests sexual favors in exchange for the promotion of the employee. We notice in today’s environment this kind of behavior tends to be less prominent, whereas hostile work environment-related behaviors tend to be more subtle and thus less easy to detect. For employees experiencing any of these behaviors, report the incident to HR right away and ensure they will take action. If they don’t, you may want to talk to an employment lawyer specializing in sexual harassment-related discrimination. Here at Trusli, finding a good employment lawyer will take you less than 10 minutes. For employers or managers, you must ensure you properly train your managers on all of this and outline inappropriate behaviors in an employee’s handbook. It is important to have an HR department that can handle employee complaints, and conduct a serious investigation when something does arise. If proved, don’t be afraid of taking action. We also have excellent employment lawyers on our platform at Trusli who can advise you on how to navigate through these sensitive issues.
With the impact of COVID and the significant number of layoffs and furloughs happening, female employees should also ask themselves whether they have become victims of wrongful termination. There are a few ways this can happen.
Terminated Solely Due to Membership in a Protected Class
If the employer makes a decision to terminate an employee solely because the employee is a member of a protected class (e.g. race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, citizenship, marital status, sex (including pregnancy), among others), the employee may have a strong case for wrongful termination. If a female employee is singled out during COVID and is fired solely because of her gender or being pregnant, please consult an employment lawyer for wrongful termination at Trusli’s platform.
This is related to the point above regarding Sexual Harassment. If a female employee feels sexually harassed, files a claim, and then, later on, is fired because of this, the employee may have a strong case of wrongful termination for retaliation.
Good Practices for the Employer
As the employer, while promoting gender equality and female leadership is certainly of critical importance, having the right training, policies, and protocols in place is key to avoiding any kind of gender-related lawsuits. Having a strong in-house counsel well versed in employment law and reliable outside employment counsel is also extremely important. In addition, given the challenges faced by women during and post COVID, a few things to consider are:
- How do promote a culture of inclusion and diversity?
- How to design and implement policies that can keep women at work, such as onsite childcare, flexible working from home policies, generous maternity and paternity leave policies, etc.? Even things like employee fertility benefits are on the rise for the elite Silicon Valley companies.
Ultimately, companies should work on a culture to encourage women to lean in and fully realize their potential. Studies show that companies with gender diversity are more productive. Retaining and promoting women will create an edge for the companies who want to have an edge in the fierce competition facing us.