The Meetings World Reacts: Policies to Protect Against Sexual Harassment

harassment policies

When reports of sexual harassment start coming from industries as varied as Hollywood, politics and, most recently TED Talks, that is a sure sign that putting measures in place to protect against unlawful discrimination is now a requirement for every endeavor, including meetings and events.

TED management responded to allegations that four female attendees at a 2017 conference in Vancouver were sexually harassed by removing and banning the two men involved, promoting a code of conduct and publicizing a reporting mechanism for harassing behaviors.

Global DMC Partners worked with Society for Human Resource Management and other experts to put together a presentation in October that explained that sexual harassment hurts everyone, from those targeted to bystanders. “Engaging in, condoning or not reporting sexual harassment is in direct conflict with our values,” the presentation stressed.

The destination management company AlliedPRA developed a white paper to guide the company’s efforts to eliminate hostile work environments, which it defined in part as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee’s work performance.

“With this issue being on the forefront of what we see in our feeds, reports of sexual harassment are likely to increase. This is good,” the draft stated. “Where in the past employees subjected to sexually harassing conduct may have been apprehensive to make formal complaints for fear of retaliation or social intimidation, now they may feel empowered to step forward.”

It continued, “As employers, we have a responsibility to provide a work environment to employees that is free from discrimination, and once we have learned that discrimination has occurred, we must perform a thorough investigation, and take immediate action to remedy the situation. Not only does the law require it, but it is the right thing to do.”

Steps to Take

The report suggested steps to prevent, recognize and respond to problems quickly. This requires cultivating a culture where employees feel encouraged to report incidents without fear of reprisal and management that gives reported incidents priority. While some reports may not meet the standards for further action, those that do may require an outside investigator to ensure an objective and thorough review. When wrongdoing is found, appropriate remedial measures can take the form of training, verbal counseling, one-on-one counseling/executive training, “last chance” agreements, demotions, salary reductions, rescinding of a bonus, terminations—or other measures that can put a stop to wrongful behavior.

Policy Guidelines

The report also recommended a policy that clearly states what is not tolerated, and training to ensure everyone is aware of the policy and enforcement methods. Items outlined for the policy include:

  • Addressing the company’s philosophy on having a workplace free from discrimination, communicating the value in diversity, and identifying classes of protected individuals.
  • Establishing a stance on zero tolerance.
  • Setting clear definitions around prohibited conduct, so employees and other staff recognize it when they see it.
  • Instituting procedures to encourage employees to immediately report violations (whether as a bystander, or as the recipient of such conduct), without requiring them to report to their supervisor. These procedures should also make it mandatory that management and supervisors report all witnessed violations.
  • Detailing the company’s response and investigation procedures, with assurance that that all complaints will be followed by a fair, complete and timely investigation.
  • Stating that, to the extent possible, confidentiality will be maintained.
  • Making it clear that employees who report in good faith or who participate in an investigation will not be subject to retaliation or reprisal.
  • Communicating the disciplinary procedures for violating the policy “up to and including termination.”

MPI Response

Meeting Professionals International (MPI) is another group taking a closer look at its written policies. Paul Van Deventer, MPI president, said in a letter to his membership that, while the organization’s Principles of Professionalism include a call to embrace and foster an inclusive business climate of respect for all peoples, he thought it was important to be even clearer. “MPI will not tolerate harassment of any kind at events we organize, whether by MPI Global or by our chapters, or in our workplace.” He said he will add more specific language at the international board of directors meeting in January. He also plans to schedule annual harassment prevention training.

The AlliedPRA report summed up the importance of this issue by stating, “Oftentimes, discussions on harassment prevention and response center on legal exposure and liabilities. It is important to remember that reports of sexual harassment involve real people with real emotions, and these instances effect lives. We certainly want to limit our exposure to such claims, but to a greater extent we always want to protect our employees against being subjected to harassing conduct, and when reports are made, every effort should be made to treat all who are involved with dignity, understanding, and respect.”