Workplace harassment isn’t new, but it looks much different in 2023 through the lens of technology. For all its many benefits, technology has fostered an environment where some feel emboldened to share unvarnished and problematic views or content, and often do so before they’ve had time to rethink hitting the send button. One lawyer in Cleveland and the firm he worked for saw firsthand the substantial damage a simple text message could manifest.
Jon Dileno, an attorney with Zashin & Rich, sent his former colleague an aggressive text message in response to her resignation shortly after completing maternity leave. Dileno’s text message was later posted to social media where the firm’s former employee received an outpouring of support contrary to Dileno’s sentiments. Zashin & Rich responded in two statements, the first of which was roundly criticized, proving harassment in any form is not taken lightly.
The reality is too many businesses do not have harassment policies in place that define the scope of harassment and provide safe reporting procedures. Unfortunately, a lack of reporting doesn’t always mean the workplace is free of harassment. And as we saw with Dileno’s case, a law firm can endure significant reputational damage from these incidents and how they now increasingly play out online. Let’s look at a few ways law firms can mitigate incidents of harassment for the protection of all employees while also protecting the firm from a damaging and costly incident:
- Procedures: Law firms need to have procedures to report, document and investigate accusations of harassment. Firms may want to consider offering anonymous ways to report incidents and multiple staff members trained to handle a report to encourage comfort and trust. Procedures will also help ensure harassment accusations are handled seriously, promptly and properly.
- Training: Training is critical in harassment prevention. However, one harassment seminar per year is not enough. Firms should consider providing harassment training several times throughout a year to update employees on procedures and the various types of harassment that can occur. In the modern workplace, training must address harassment via social media, text messages, video and more. Firms can access resources on harassment prevention through the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website: https://www.eeoc.gov/harassment. Law firms should also consider researching their state harassment training recommendations or in some cases, requirements by law.
- Insurance: Law firms should have an updated lawyer’s professional liability insurance (LPLI) policy in place to protect the firm financially in the event of a harassment claim. An insurance agent who has experience in the legal industry can help firms build harassment prevention programs and ensure their LPLI is updated to respond to modern harassment scenarios and reasonable limits.
The era of what is and isn’t clear about harassment is long past. Just as the law is nuanced, so, too, must the policies of law firms and legal departments take a thoughtful and thorough approach to mitigate the risk of harassment and related claims.