What Do Mediators Look For In Sexual Harassment Cases?

Sexual discrimination cases are by far, the most prominent employment-related issues that make it to court, that could be most effectively resolved by employment mediation. In particular, sexual harassment enjoys a fair bit of publicity and  limelight,  due to the fact that many of these cases become news stories that excite the general media. Let’s take a minute to do a quick mental exercise. Think about the last three employment related issues that you remember hearing about in the Media that do NOT related to sex in any way. Now think of three that do. For most people that I’ve asked this question, they are able to immediately recollect cases related to sexual discrimination, harassment or just improper conduct a lot more easily than the others. Hey, we all know and have talked about Senator Weiner, the sexual atrocities of the Gadhafi troops, the French former President of the IMF, and the like.

Despite the wide media coverage and public interest in this issue, the number of cases registered has kept growing year over year for many years.  According to an assessment done in 1998, Sexual harassment costs Fortune 500 companies a staggering $6.7 Million per annum just on this issue. Smaller companies pay their dues too, to a proportional extent.

What makes sexual harassment cases even more complicated is the fact that, on many occasions, depending upon your perspective, it may be done unintentionally. Take for instance, Linda (name changed) that works at a leading BioTech in California felt that the her boss’s use of the word “ladies” to refer to women occasionally was harassment and led to her overall dissatisfaction and under performance at work. As it turns out, her boss seemed to be truly unaware of even using that in his language. Linda eventually changed jobs due to her dissatisfaction with her boss due to this issue alone. Such issues often go unnoticed and unreported but can lead to a loss of productivity and morale in a team. Many companies are recognizing the fact that sexual harassment issues are not fully served using the system of court alone. It needs attention at a level that is a lot more personal. What might be acceptable to one person may not be to others. It is often very challenging to formulate laws or even company policies around such inconsistencies.

Companies often recommend that employees discuss such issues directly with each other and even train them on it. Programs such as “Crucial Conversations” and “Crucial Confrontations” by VitalSmarts and “Best Ideas Win” by Alternative Law are common in workplaces. However, even in those programs, they recognize that sexual harassment is often a specialized subject. It might be a mental game that many victims are incapable of addressing on their own. Companies employ mediators as the first line of defense in those situations.

Mediators are often able to facilitate through alternative law the channel for communications in a way that is harmless and retains and even enhances the relationship of the concerned parties. Skilled mediators are not only able to change the behavior but actually channelize it into a positive personality trait that companies can benefit from.  Best of all, mediators have a very high rate of success in preventing sexual harassment issues from escalating into costly legal battles.