The Uber harassment scandal launched a huge conversation in the tech world after whistleblower Susan Fowler exposed the sexism and harassment she faced at her former employer. Highlighting that discrimination and harassment happen across industries and can occur at any level, there is still much to learn to improve workplace culture — and human resource and business practices.
To learn from the Uber discrimination debacle, it is important to first talk about the underlying issues that created the scandal.
Understanding the Complex Problems
Harassment and discrimination in the workplace are wrong AND illegal. Unfortunately, many corporations have deeply-rooted policies that have allowed it to happen over and over again. Behaviors end up being covered up – and boards and other executive leaders may not know that their own company has a toxic culture. With the intention of risk management, many companies use a standard corporate practice known as “forced arbitration.”
What is Forced Arbitration?
Forced arbitration basically means that employees give up their right to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal a dispute involving harassment and/or discrimination. It is often a condition of employment.
If an employee leaves a company due to the behavior that promotes a hostile work environment, employers will also often make them sign a non- disparagement (NDA) agreement to receive a severance package. Minorities and women are disproportionately affected by this practice. These types of “resolutions” have not historically helped to stop the harassment and discrimination from continuing to occur — leaving future employees at all levels vulnerable to the hostile work environment.
What Companies Can Do
After the Uber harassment scandal, it is important for companies to deeply reflect and take action. If not, the toxic cultures will continue to go unseen or even ignored. Some of the things a company can do include:
- Tell your employees their legal rights that protect them from harassment and discrimination
- Institute a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination
- Edit nondisclosure agreements to take out the “fear language”
- Stop the standard corporate practice of forced arbitration
- Facilitate open communications between HR and employees
Being proactive is the key. Not allowing a hostile work environment to be tolerated in the first place will not only serve employees well, but it is good for business and can stop a company-wide scandal before it ever gets started.
What Employees Can Do
If you are currently being sexually harassed or the subject of other behaviors that can constitute a hostile work environment, know you have the right to say no and tell them to stop right away. Report the inappropriate behavior to your Human Resources department. If you have been retaliated against after reporting harassment or discrimination, know you have legal rights too. Other things that employees can do are:
- Document the inappropriate behavior with dates and details
- Save any emails, letters or other documentation that includes harassing or discriminatory language
- Consult with an employee rights attorney for help — you may have a case
Taking Action to Help Employees
The Uber harassment scandal could have been prevented. This situation, as well as many other high profile cases, should be a call-to-action for both employers and employees. Workers need to understand their rights, and know that professional employment law attorneys fight for workplace justice each day.
At Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., we remain by your side throughout the entire process. Following your free initial consultation, we take immediate action in getting to know the facts of your case.