Allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace have gained increasing attention since the recent #MeToo movement. But even before the recent uptick in focus on such allegations, these issues have posed many challenges for employers and HR professionals.
In addition to the potential for serious legal liability, there are subtler impacts that come from these kinds of allegations and the perception of an employer’s response—or nonresponse—to them.
Employers that are seen as taking too casual of an attitude toward sexual misconduct allegations risk alienating employees and damaging morale and brand image.
The Google Walkout
A high-profile example of this can be seen in the recent global walkout of Google employees. As Sherisse Pham reported for CNN on November 1, 2018, “Google employees around the world walked out of their offices … in a global protest over how the company deals with sexual harassment.” Pham explained that the demonstrations, which have come to be called the “Google Walkout,” have followed an “outcry over a New York Times investigation that detailed years of sexual harassment allegations, multimillion-dollar severance packages for accused executives, and a lack of transparency over the cases.”
Employees are certainly concerned about the harassment that has taken place. But, in this situation, their outcry has been further fueled by situations when those ousted have been given golden parachutes.
What Do They Want?
The demands of those staging the walkouts include an end to the use of forced arbitration in sexual harassment and discrimination cases. Google’s management team has so far been supportive of the walkouts.
Pham reports that in a statement to CNN, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, “We let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned for Thursday [November 1] and that employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate.”
The actions, and reactions, of senior leadership and management are critical in situations such as these because of the potential for public outcry and brand impact.
Implications for Corporate Image
The impacts of the Google walkout go far beyond the disruption of having so many staff members step away from their work temporarily. The image of a global walkout protesting perceived mismanagement of serious sexual misconduct allegations could have a significant impact on Google’s image among both consumers and potential employees.
For a company that owes much of its success to attracting top talent worldwide, that is a very big deal.