Time for dealers to refresh harassment policies
If car dealers aren't paying attention to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it's time to wake up.
In October, several women accused the powerful Hollywood movie producer of sexual harassment. Some have alleged rape.
That story unleashed a torrent of sexual harassment allegations against other powerful and well-known men: comedian Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey, former U.S. Sen. Al Franken, former "Today" show host Matt Lauer and actor Dustin Hoffman, to name a few. The fallout has been dire for most of the accused.
"You can't turn on the TV or pick up a magazine without seeing this issue," said Mike Charapp, partner at law firm Charapp & Weiss in McLean, Va.
Charapp said his dealer clients are watching these stories with increasing concern that their employees will be, "woke to some problem they never even considered before."
In the past few weeks, Charapp said, clients are calling to get his advice on tweaking existing sexual harassment policies and procedures. Some want to book a time for him to train their employees on reporting, or in the case of managers, investigating discrimination or harassment complaints.
The policies in most dealerships aren't new because many dealers put them in employee handbooks at least a decade ago or more. In fact, most reputable dealers have spent considerable time over the years fine-tuning such policies and training staff on reporting procedures.
Charapp has not seen an "upsurge in complaints" of sexual misconduct at dealerships since the scandals because there has been a fairly good "history of compliance," he said.
Still, most car dealerships are male-dominated workplaces, so this recent wave of emboldened victims stepping forward with allegations of sexual misconduct should spur dealers to do a refresher course on their policies. Perhaps, have a meeting reiterating the policy and outlining the procedures to follow if a person experiences or observes inappropriate behavior. Not doing so could result in serious consequences.
"Let's say it's a dealership with mostly all men. What happens if you have women applying for a position, and they're not even considered? That could be discrimination," said Charapp. "What if they are mistreated in the interview? That could be harassment."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission might investigate and file a lawsuit, and even if it does not proceed with a suit, "the person who felt they were harassed would now have a right to file their own lawsuit," said Charapp.
The monetary damages for a dealer who is successfully sued can be "pretty significant." There are attorney fees to consider, too. There's also the risk of bad publicity if the case ends up in the news.
And sexual harassment or discrimination could involve a customer, not just employees.
"We've had that situation in the past where women customers feel they were mistreated," said Charapp. "She could conceivably sue for public accommodation discrimination."
The reality is clear: Many women (and some men) feel empowered now more so than ever to take a stand against those who sexually harass or discriminate against them.
If they're not gonna take it, you better be prepared to prevent it.
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