6:27 PM
 | 
Aug 03, 2018
 |  BioCentury  |  Strategy

Addressing sexual harassment claims at the board level

Sexual harassment claims are on their way: How and why company boards should get ready

In today’s environment, no industry is immune from claims of workplace harassment. Allegations can not only tarnish a company’s -- and a board’s -- reputation, and impair shareholder value, but imperil the existence of a company.

The Weinstein Company LLC may have been an extreme case, but the events of the last year support the idea that sexual harassment is a reality in all sectors. The biopharmaceutical industry is no exception.

“When allegations do arise, it’s essential that boards act quickly.”

Doreen Lilienfeld, Shearman & Sterling

In any company or organization, the problem can stem from just one bad actor, or from a host of them, from individual acts, or from a whole environment. Any of these can have a damaging effect on employee morale, not to mention goodwill of potential investors or partners.

And when allegations do arise, it’s essential that boards act quickly. A perception that the company is failing to act, or not responding seriously to harassment claims, will not be viewed favorably by juries or in the court of public opinion.

The responsibility applies to boards of both public and private biopharmas; in both cases the Board has a responsibility to shareholders. While the public disclosure requirements differ between private and public companies, the reputational damage can be lasting.

It’s also important that board members understand “allegations” covers all forms of information, not only circumstances where an employee files a case. If a board member gets wind of situations involving sexual harassment over coffee, through the investor community or otherwise, he or she has the same duty to act.

Dealing with complaints

The importance of dealing speedily and effectively with complaints goes well beyond negative publicity. As with any area...

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