Business owners discuss ways to identify, prevent sexual harassment

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

“I think we’d be pretty naive to think this is just a Hollywood problem,” said Keya Denner an attorney at Norris, McLaughlin, and Marcus.

The conversation at the Somerset County Business Partnership’s Business Builders Breakfast started by defining sexual harassment. By the end, the goal was to make business owners and managers aware of ways to prevent it in a workplace environment.

“It’s really important the managers and supervisors of these companies get it because one thing I see from my practice quite often, unfortunately, is that complaints get made and then somehow it never filters up and it doesn’t get to the right person. And if you’re a business and you wind up getting sued, and that scenario played out, you’re going to have a problem,” Denner explained.

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers paid close to $700 million in the span of five years to employees alleging harassment.

Joelle Piercy, a community outreach coordinator with Safe + Sound Somerset, facilitated an exercise in which each time the audience heard a beep noise, they had to stop the sentence they were writing and start over again.

Attendees described the experience as annoying, disruptive, distracting and frustrating. She told the room to imagine each of those beeps are unwanted attention or unwanted comments.

She says there are severe psychological impacts from sexual harassment.

“A lot of times, people report that they actually try to find excuses to not come to work. They’ll avoid it, they may just quit. So find people whose, maybe, attitudes have started changing, who are becoming withdrawn,” said Piercy.

Those are the signs you need to look for, but then action must be taken, she said.

“Let them know they are not alone, that they are believed by the people around them, that they’re supported and there is help.”

But how do you stop sexual harassment from happening in the first place? The biggest takeaways from the presentation were for companies to have anti-harassment policies in place that are simple and clear in their language, and training specific to your work environment.

“That’s one of the things the EEOC had found in 2016, which was actually before #MeToo happened, which was so surprising actually. You’re right, everybody has training, everybody has policies, but they’re obviously not doing the training right,” said Denner.

That’s why Denner says it’s important the training is done in person.

“We need more of this because a lot of women are being brutally harassed, brutally,” said Diane Maroukian, owner of Wealth Strategies and Management Groups.

“I will definitely let them know that there are ways that it can be handled that’s not being done because most people don’t realize that it is an issue,” said Tanya Smith, a member service representative from Shareview Federal Credit Union

An issue back in the spotlight because of campaigns like #MeToo.