Flooded with sexual-harassment complaints, VICE publicly apologizes for its “detrimental ‘boy’s club’ culture”

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Remember that time when one your high-level managers walked into Human Resources. And that remorseful high-level manager voluntarily confessed to sexually harassing a subordinate — before the subordinate had even registered a complaint — with an apology so genuine and sincere that you got a little choked up.

Yeah, me neither.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran a story about VICE Media, a digital media and broadcasting company whose target audience consists of male millennials. The report is behind a paywall. But, according to Natasha Reda, the story includes “dozens of current and former female Vice employees open[ing] up about the ‘toxic’ culture of sexual harassment they were subjected to while working for the company.”

Earlier in the day, VICE Founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi sent this note to VICE global staff in an attempt to get ahead of the NYT story. In its all-employee letter, Messrs. Smith and Alvi apologized for years of corporate knuckle-dragging and misogyny. Here’s the opener:

As most of you know, the New York Times has been working on a piece about the workplace culture here at VICE. The Times is planning to run the story online shortly.

Listening to our employees over the past year, the truth is inescapable: from the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive. Cultural elements from our past, dysfunction and mismanagement were allowed to flourish unchecked. That includes a detrimental “boy’s club” culture that fostered inappropriate behavior that permeated throughout the company. It happened on our watch, and ultimately we let far too many people down. We are truly sorry for this.

I can only imagine the heart attack that some of the in-house lawyers narrowly avoided in connection with this mea culpa. But seriously, to their credit, Messrs. Smith and Alvi not only promised change but gave some specific examples to back it up. They include: (a) hiring a new CHRO, (b) creating a new Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board; (c) promising pay parity by the end of 2018; (d) a strengthened reporting process; and (e) more training.

Still, here’s another case of buying flood insurance after the flood.

As a management-side employment lawyer, I’ve experienced it firsthand as the person who helps to mitigate the damage after it has occurred. Pay a settlement –> fortify compliance.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three ways to help solve this problem before, well, it becomes a problem:

  1. Update your employee handbook to ensure that employees not only know your anti-harassment policy, but also the procedure(s) for reporting complaints arising under the policy.
  2. Train your employees and managers to emphasize that all complaints of harassment must be taken seriously and communicated to HR. A manager is neither judge or confidant.
  3. Audit your pay practices to ensure that any par disparities between protected classes are based on criteria/characteristics other than the protected class

Here’s a recent article from Workforce Magazine that’s chock full of compliance tips. And when all else fails, strongly consider purchasing an employment practices liability insurance policy.

It’s nice to have insurance before the problem.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”