To the surprise of no one, the Weinstein Company fired Harvey Weinstein this month as news outlets unveiled a wave of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against the famous movie producer. While that was expected, what is truly remarkable is how many Hollywood insiders seem to be casually referring to Weinstein’s behavior as an “open secret” throughout the industry, essentially admitting that they all knew about this conduct, yet didn’t do anything to stop it.
Whatever their excuses, someone should have stopped Weinstein long ago. Putting all morals aside – a difficult task when reading the details of the accusations – the law has long obligated employers to stop sexual harassment when they have knowledge that it is occurring. Traditionally, harassment claims are targeted towards the harasser personally and against the employer that employed the harasser. In actuality, though, the anti-harassment laws apply not only to the Weinstein Company, but also to every other employer that knowingly placed its employees within Weinstein’s reach. Simply put, employers are responsible for ensuring a harassment-free workplace for their employees, regardless if the harasser is a co-worker, manager, customer, vendor, or powerful Hollywood producer.
If this truly was an “open secret,” then employers that knew about Weinstein’s conduct, and did nothing to stop it, are exposed to significant liability if their employees were victimized. As Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said: “It’s not just about him, it’s not just about the other men that do it, it’s about all the people around them that know and don’t do anything.” Ms. Sandberg then said that there should not only be disastrous consequences for Weinstein, but also for those that tolerated his conduct over the years. Whether Ms. Sandberg meant it this way or not, the law indeed gives victims the right to impose heavy consequences on any employer that knowingly failed to take action. No doubt this is what recently caused Fidelity Investments to fire Gavin Baker – a highly successful fund manager – after multiple junior employees complained of his harassing conduct.
Weinstein’s very public collapse is a signal to employees that they don’t have to put up with work-related harassment. Further, as criticism builds towards those “that know and don’t do anything,” we may also see more employees take action against their employers for not doing anything to stop harassment in the workplace. Altogether, the whole debacle is a glaring example for why employers should adopt and vigorously implement effective anti-harassment policies to protect both their employees and the business itself.