Three Tips to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Harassment in the Retail Workplace
The headlines abound in these #MeToo movement days about sexual harassment, assault and other bad behavior in the workplace. The retail sector has not been immune from the attention that is being paid to these claims, and the importance of prompt and fair action remains extremely important. Moreover, the retail workforce includes what are often young, inexperienced and transitory employees. This, in addition with close working spaces and blending of work with outside friendships, can create a volatile mix that can be costly for retailers if not handled appropriately
The following are three recommendations for retail employers interested in preventing and adequately responding to sexual harassment in their stores.
1. An Effective Anti-Harassment Policy
Key among the steps to address sexual harassment is an effective anti-harassment policy, which must define what conduct is prohibited and provide adequate procedures for reporting it to management.
Harassment is generally defined as offensive, unwelcome behavior based on race, color, religion, gender (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, national origin, age (40 years or older), disability, genetic information, and any other classification protected by law, which is either made a condition of continued employment (“economic”) or is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile workplace (“environmental”).
Employees should be strongly encouraged to report all concerns of harassment to a company representative. Managers must be required to report all harassment issues, which are usually reported to human resources at larger retailers, while in smaller settings, an administrator who has received training on appropriately responding to harassment complaints.
A good policy should identify a primary person (or department) to whom reports of harassment can be made, as well as an alternate person to receive reports of harassment when an employee feels uncomfortable going to the primary person. It is also important that the policy clearly explains that anyone can report concerns of harassment—not just the victim. Bystander involvement is becoming a necessary tool for combatting workplace harassment. Because retaliation is illegal, the policy must notify employees that retaliation against any person for reporting or helping deal with a harassment issue will not be tolerated.
2. Effectively Dealing with Powerful Managers
Assuring that employees have an effective means to raise issues, even anonymously, becomes more significant when the harasser is a manager or important executive. It should go without saying that a level of trust must exist that the retailer will do the right thing for all employees at all levels of the organization. If there are rumors, social media tweets or store gossip that suggests inappropriate behavior is occurring, it is important for a company to investigate and determine what is really going on.
Sometimes, new or immature managers who are suddenly in positions of relative power, inappropriately use their roles to engage in serial relationships with subordinates who depend on them for assignment of hours, raises, promotions and the like. Retailers have been burned in lawsuits alleging that a particular store or regional manager’s behavior was known and not addressed because their store or region was seen as profitable. Ignoring “open secrets” can discourage others from reporting, which will only lead to further problems. Tolerating such an individual is a compounding liability risk. It also sends a message to employees that harassment in the workplace is, in fact, tolerated by the company if the harasser is considered more important to the company than the victim.
The #MeToo movement has demonstrated that “open secrets” only get worse, making the situation even more challenging when they finally surface. The only way to combat harassment in such an environment is to stand up to powerful executives and to communicate a powerful message of cultural change that starts with the company’s leadership.
3. Promoting the Business Case for Addressing Harassment
Sexual harassment can affect a business’s bottom line and is also a violation of law. The cost of judgments, settlements and attorney’s fees incurred in litigation, as well as through decreased productivity attributable to low morale, are well documented. Victims and witnesses of harassment are more likely to suffer from stress and psychological consequences than others, and they are more prone to sick time and workplace disengagement. Million-dollar harassment verdicts and settlements are not uncommon, and juries may be encouraged by the #MeToo movement to punish wrongdoers and their employers monetarily. Jury verdicts and settlements do not include the cost of legal defense or other indirect losses arising from company representatives’ time spent meeting with lawyers, giving depositions or performing other tasks focused on litigation, instead of their regular job duties.
A recent development that has raised the stakes for retail employers is that confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements are becoming more difficult to use and enforce. State legislatures and advocacy groups are increasingly attacking their use as enabling harassers to continue their behavior with other victims or permitting companies to sue for speaking out in violation of these clauses. Retailers can no longer assume that the facts of a particular harassment case will never become public simply by passage of time or payment of large settlements.
Retailers need to take a broad approach to preventing harassment. In addition to an effective anti-harassment policy and reporting process for receiving complaints, your leadership needs to model correct behavior. Corporate culture starts in the C-Suite. Management needs to believe that harassment and retaliation are unacceptable in their workplaces.
Managers also should take specific efforts to become aware of the behavior that occurs in their stores, kiosks, warehouses and other environments. This can be accomplished through employee satisfaction surveys allowing employees to raise concerns. It is not enough to just conduct traditional harassment training. Training should also include discussions of workplace norms and bystander intervention. Store managers need to understand what to do if they see inappropriate conduct or receive a complaint.
Retailers need to hold managers accountable for promoting a professional environment and reporting complaints to end to bad behavior. Managers also need to understand that, while addressing harassment in their workplaces is an important performance metric, they could also be disciplined or even personally liable if they fail to uphold company values. The #MeToo movement does not show any signs of abating and if anything, industries beyond entertainment and technology will continue to be in the spotlight. Don’t let it be your store.
Nestor Barrero is senior counsel in the Los Angeles office of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, where he advises large and medium sized employers, including retailers, on all aspects of labor and employment law including compliance with anti-harassment, discrimination, privacy and workplace laws. His past and current retail clients have included Nordstrom, Macy’s, Universal CityWalk, Toys R Us and Gymboree. He may be reached at [email protected]
Walgreens expands alliance with FedEx in offensive move against Amazon
Walgreens isn’t about to let Amazon get the best of it.
As the industry waits for the online giant to make its move into pharmacy following its June acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack, Walgreens is expanding its partnership with FedEx to launch next-day prescription delivery nationwide.
Walgreens will charge $4.99 for the next-day delivery service. Orders must be placed by 4 p.m. on business days. The drug store chain said the service makes it “the fastest choice for next-day prescription delivery across the nation.”
“Next-day prescription home delivery is another convenience-driver, alongside our industry-leading number of extended hours pharmacies and one of the most downloaded digital apps in the category, designed to put care in the hands of our patients,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations. “This expansion of our alliance with FedEx illustrates our commitment to making filling prescriptions as fast and easy as possible.”
Walgreens also plans to expand its same-day delivery service in 2019. The chain already offers same-day delivery in Dallas; Chicago; New York City; Miami; Gainesville, Fla.; Tampa, Fla.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The delivery services are part of Walgreens Express, which also allows customers to preview the cost of their prescriptions and prepay for those that are eligible. Customers can choose between home delivery or express pickup in store via a dedicated Walgreens Express pickup checkout line.
In 2017, Walgreens and FedEx partnered to provide access to FedEx “drop off and pickup services” at nearly 8,000 Walgreens locations nationwide.
“FedEx and Walgreens are empowering consumers to choose when and where they receive their orders,” said Randy Scarborough, VP of retail marketing, FedEx Services. “Just as FedEx package pick-up and drop-off services at Walgreens locations provide customers with much-needed convenience, the ability to ship prescription medication directly from Walgreens to their homes offers valuable flexibility to best meet individual needs and schedules.”
A Digital Onboarding Experience for Seasonal Hires
As a retailer, you’ve no doubt met your hiring quotas by now for the holiday season. Next comes an equally weighty challenge: how to onboard, train, and most importantly, engage those thousands of seasonal workers that Santa has so generously placed under your corporate tree.
Many chains try to complete this formidable process through a series of automated enterprise HR software systems. Workflow automation apps can simplify typical onboarding tasks like payroll, IT, tax/regulatory documentation, enrollments and the like. eLearning platforms offer online training in the form of videos, on-demand courseware, and testing. And benefits portals can help employees with their insurance questions.
To raise employee engagement, retailers often resort to perks and incentives. Swag bags, employee discounts, bonuses, generous PTO policies, flexible scheduling, and prize drawings are just some of the fringe benefits touted by retailers to raise morale and enthusiasm. Mentoring programs and skills development can also help to keep workers engaged; some even offer end-of-season bonuses or signing bonuses to returning employees.
Despite all these efforts to keep seasonal employees happy, the turnover rate for part-time, hourly retail employees remains high. Smooth onboarding and training, in addition to creating a positive employee experience, is vital to the success of new retail employees. After all, no one wants to feel overwhelmed in their new job; furthermore, many want to feel like they’re part of something important and larger than themselves. Strong HR tools can create this sense of purpose, giving employees a sense of belonging and assurance that they’re a good fit for their new employer.
Although many organizations have standardized platforms to manage the recruiting process, very few have a coordinated solution in place to welcome, onboard, train, and engage seasonal workers. This is where digital workforce platforms are changing the nature of employee engagement. Workforce portals intelligently analyze and track each individual worker’s needs, customizing their personal experience to match their situation as well as the company’s priorities.
Everyone has faced a “first day” scenario in which they feel unsure of what to do, where to go, or what to expect. Digital workforce platforms, such as Deloitte’s ConnectMe, which connects employees to relevant HR resources and tools, combat this dilemma by providing the hand-holding new hires may need. As a one-stop resource, these platforms or portals can also eliminate frustration and bewilderment; instead of exposing new workers to four or five different systems, a single employee platform gives them a much simpler experience. Fragmentation, multiple log-ons, and information disconnects are no longer an issue.
From the moment the new employee accepts his or her position, digital workforce platforms can provide relevant information. For example, a welcome video from the CEO can explain the company’s culture, its approach to customer service, and how it differentiates itself in the market. The platform can lead the new hire through the process of signing W-2’s, completing employee documentation, benefits enrollment, and IT registration. It can also deliver whatever compliance-related training is required (e.g., safety, workplace behavior, apparel requirements, etc.) via video training. As the worker progresses in his/her job, the platform can assist further via links to upcoming work schedules and company announcements, or to manage important life events such as getting married, having children, or changing addresses.
Catering to Digital Natives
For many new hires, digital workplace platforms are desirable because they sync with modern lifestyles. Millennials in particular are “digital natives” who are used to technology. They want their lives to be as frictionless as possible, and online resources fill this need. In fact, portals can make a retailer more attractive in a highly competitive job market—imagine a candidate evaluating three different job opportunities, but only one has a video featuring current employees praising the company’s forward-thinking approach as evidenced by its convenient digital resources. Solutions such as these can play a valuable role in a candidate saying “yes.”
Saving on Costs
For employers, workforce portals can also provide a net cost savings. In the past, employees would have to call the HR service center three or four times to navigate life changes or to have a benefit question answered. By providing a resource for employees to service their own needs, HR service delivery experts can focus on services that add higher value to the organization. Additionally, digital workforce platforms, by helping to ensure consistency in onboarding, training and messaging to new hires, can be key to providing consistent and exceptional customer service by freeing up the employee to focus on the customer and by retaining top quality workers.
A digital workplace platform can usually be implemented in three to four months and for a fraction of the cost it takes to roll out typical enterprise software. Companies considering such a move should remember to focus on culture first, and technology second. Portals are a means to an end—and that end is an exceptional employee experience. Employers need to configure those “moments that matter,” so the result is an optimal employee experience.
To help ensure a successful rollout, consider an outside consultant with a wealth of experience building and deploying workplace solutions. These parties can assist with content creation, best practices in change management, and fresh ideas that can help ensure a successful, innovative, and functional platform.
Hiring seasonal workers is perhaps the biggest staffing task facing any retail HR organization. Yet by engaging these workers quickly—and providing exceptional work experiences over time—seasonal hiring can actually become more efficient. Temporary employees are more likely to come back, and full-time employees are more likely to recommend their workplace to others. Holidays may be a challenge—but in a hot labor market fraught with uncertainties, retailers will find that a digital workplace platform can be a gift that keeps on giving.
Bill Docherty is managing director and general manager of ConnectMe, Deloitte Consulting LLP.