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Farrer & Co | How to Weinstein-proof your workplace

One of the worst things about the Weinstein scandal (now featuring both Harvey and his brother Bob) is that when I first heard the story my reaction was more of the "of course" variety than the "no way!". Not that I knew a whole lot about Mr Weinstein or his brother. But bad bosses who exploit their 'fire-power' to bully and harass with impunity aren't just found in Hollywood.

The basic elements of this sorry tale could play out in any sector – and they do with depressing regularity.

The Amazon Studios boss resigned this week after allegations of sexual harassment. And this summer, Uber's then boss Travis Kalanick left the company under a cloud of controversy including accusations of his cultivation of a sexist and macho culture within the company.

Bullying, harassment and abuse is wrong wherever and however it happens. But instances at work, whether systematic or isolated, can be especially pernicious and its consequences far reaching. It erodes trust and morale among employees, it generates grievances which could lead to court action (against both employers and individual perpetrators), it drives talent away and can tarnish (or in Weinstein's case destroy) the reputations of organisations, perpetrators and colleagues who may be seen as permissive bystanders (for a more detailed analysis of reputational damage in these sorts of cases, see Julian Pike's recent article on Managing Reputations Through the Weinstein Wreckage).

The frequency and severity of scandals of the Weinstein ilk tell us that we need to do a lot more to prevent, identify and shut down bad behaviour. But what is this "more"? If successful and sizeable companies with large HR teams, well drafted policies and training programmes remain vulnerable – what else is there?

In post-scandal analysis it is common to hear of sector or firm cultures which encourage, enable or tolerate misconduct. Identifying problematic aspects of a company's culture can be difficult from the inside and making changes isn't as easy as publishing some new guidance or re-working workplace bullying policies and reporting procedures – although these things can certainly help.

Employers should think carefully about the messages they are sending generally in the company or organisation and especially when handling a complaint, for example:

Taking training seriously - Training employees about what is and isn't acceptable behaviour at work can be valuable if taken seriously. Tokenistic training will do little to educate or reassure others. More regular training will show that the company takes the matter seriously and will keep staff alert to issues. And employees at all levels should participate. Signing up the most senior staff with more junior employees to be trained together is a good way to show that these issues transcend the organisation's hierarchy and apply equally to everyone.

Support/reporting structures – In one study, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that claimants in the majority of harassment cases taken to the Employment Tribunal were new joiners, and are often younger and often women. Think about how you integrate new members of staff. Do you have good support relationships and reporting routes that don't just go up the "chain of command"? It may not be natural or easy to talk to your line-manager or boss about certain issues, particularly something like harassment.

Take a clear stance - If you have good and clear policy positions on bullying, harassment and abusive behaviour then make sure employees know about them. Annexes to an 100 page + staff handbooks are unlikely to be read. Think about other ways of communicating a zero-tolerance on bad behaviour.

Victim focused - If after a finding of misconduct you decide to fire the perpetrator, think about how this decision is communicated to staff? An approach which prioritises discretion and smooth transitions might be seen to make life easier for the perpetrator, leave a victim feeling unsupported or diminish the severity of the complaint. On the other hand, an employee who has been at the receiving end of harassment or abuse may feel strongly about the need for discretion. Being responsive to the particulars of each case is vital.

The Weinstein revelations have exposed some nasty men and shone a light on problematic power structures. It has also emboldened many to speak up and call out unacceptable behaviour – and this is great. Any employer who hears and responds to their employee's particular concerns, consistently condemns bad behaviour and works to create an open and respectful culture, is surely helping to create a place where a Weinstein can't work.

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