Miami, FL—I am going to make a stab at this since no one in the industry seems to be talking about the current elephant in the room: sexual harassment. After the recent months of accusations and litigations in Hollywood and elsewhere, I think we in the industry—especially as small business owners—must make sure we are protecting ourselves and our employees.
A written policy concerning sexual harassment is something every small business should have in place.
We can get very bogged down in the details, but I want to touch only on the basics of awareness and what you need to do, if you haven’t already. Sexual harassment can happen to or be committed by workers of any professional level or gender, and harassment cases, if they go to court, are very likely to be decided in favor of the plaintiff.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
The Civil Rights Act states that it is unlawful to harass a person in the workplace. But as noted above, the Federal regulation only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, and even businesses with this threshold are not legally required to have an official sexual harassment policy in place.
Though I totally disagree, most jewelry retailers I spoke with felt that sexual harassment policies were unnecessary given their small number of employees. Some stated that such rules were too politically oriented for their company’s culture. Or they feared pushback from employees who aren’t used to such rules. Really? That would be a big red flag for me!
It is important for employees to feel protected in the workplace, which is why I think all businesses need an official harassment policy in place. Implementing an official policy gives employees step-by-step directions for identifying and reporting harassment—and it also spells out what behaviors are unacceptable.
Is there an elephant in your room? Don't ignore it, have an official policy to deal with it.
Regardless of the size of your business, having a policy in place not only protects your employees but also you as a business owner. A zero-tolerance policy and guidelines will ensure everyone is working and operating on the same page. Coming up with an official harassment policy may seem overwhelming, but I truly feel that in today’s world it is a necessity for the health of both your employees and your business as a whole.
If you are too small for an internal HR department, which I think most of us are, there are free online sources to help you implement a harassment policy. (HR Daily Advisor is just one of many sites; it’s a good starting point.) It could be enlightening to see how other small businesses of your size have structured their policies. This is where I feel the need to mention that groups like Continental Buying Group and Preferred Jewelers International, as well as other organizations, are so important as they give a forum for retailers to speak with each other about similar situations.
So hopefully I’ve convinced you to draft a policy. I, of course, would put a policy together and have my attorney look it over. I feel you can never be too careful when it comes to legalities. Retailers need to outline their policies, their meanings, as well as provide ongoing training programs. This is very important and effective as it will help employees from misunderstanding the policy and claiming they were unaware of its existence.
An effective harassment policy helps employees understand appropriate work behavior and ensures fair treatment in the workplace. If a sexual harassment claim were to happen, and you have policies in place, these policies can and will protect retail owners from costly lawsuits.
I still say work with an employment attorney to help create your policies. It has to be less expensive than getting hit with a lawsuit plus (as we know) bad publicity that could ruin the name you have built in your community for years.
Okay, now the elephant is out of the room. Take it for what it’s worth, but please don’t bury your head in the sand. --Andie
Andie Weinman, president and CEO of Preferred Jewelers International / Continental Buying Group Inc., has worked in the jewelry industry since age 10. Though she holds a B.A. in musical theatre and a B.S. in marine biology from The University of Tampa, the jewelry business beckoned and she has performed a multitude of jobs in the manufacturing of jewelry. As a negotiator, she has earned a reputation as being tough but fair with vendors. In 2012 the Indian Diamond and Color Association awarded Andie the Prestigious Doyenne Award of the Year.