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EAP CIR- Responding to Sexual Harassment Incidents

Request for EAP CIR after a sexual harassment allegations, claims, investigations and subsequent job actions, like termination, of high level employees have been increasing. The sudden exposure and exit of executive leadership and public figures have stunned institutions, colleagues and the general public. What is usually investigated internally and as confidentially as possible, the #MeToo movement has ripped open the curtain and news has rippled down through the ranks creating internal shake ups, policy review, and cultural awakening. EAPs have been asked to send onsite counselors to provide services.

Sexual harassment issues are not new to EAPs. Counselors often work with employees who are sorting out their options on how to proceed when they believe they were subject to harassment. EAPs receive referrals from Human Resource professionals when allegations are made, claims substantiated, and may be involved with sensitivity trainings. It can be a delicate and complex process when, as an EAP counselor, we are responsible for maintaining the dual-client focus. With multiple stakeholders involved, this can become an ethical landmine.

Having received some questions from the response community who have been asked to go onsite for this type of incident, there is some anxiety about what to expect. Sexual Harassment historically has not been a typical type of incident we associate with onsite CIR services. Here are some guidelines and boundaries to establish when responding to a sexual harassment CIR.

1. You are not being asked to go onsite as a sexual harassment expert. Your job is not to offer guidance on the details around sexual harassment claims, comment on internal processes, etc. You are an expert on EAP CIR and you understand how critical incidents, with their interpretive value, can impact organizations and employees. Your goals are the same as any incident; by helping to reestablish safety and support the process of resilience.

2. The EAP management consultation process should make sure to help define the onsite responder’s role and create reasonable expectations. Relay this to the onsite responder and/or response vendor.

3. Onsite EAP CIR professionals may hear some very powerful reactions from employees. You too may have a very strong personal reaction to how employees and the organization have been impacted. Keep your objectivity. Empathy is important, but can be easily misinterpreted as “agreement.” Maintain neutrality. Clarify your empathic remarks to reduce potential distortion of your supportive comments.

4. Regardless of your views and position of the #MeToo movement, this is not your soapbox. You must maintain a neutral stance to be seen as helpful with your dual client.

5. Watch out for the us vs. them position as you will likely be pulled into the middle. Remember both clients, employees and organizations, are impacted and need assistance. Both want to restore a workplace that is safe and trusted. Much work is needed beyond EAP CIR to get there.

6. Impact to the organization's brand, or reputation is at risk. Reputation is cited as the number one concern by senior executives when facing adversity (BSI 2017 Organizational Resiliency Index Report). It is a realistic organizational pursuit, but may be misinterpreted as being insensitive to the accusations. Both concerns can coexist. Saving the company is also of value to all employees.

7. The EAP organization can be a resource for further consultation on sexual harassment policy and wellness matters.

8. Take our training on Ethical EAP CIR, soon to be released. Click here to be notified.

Robert Intveld, LCSW, CEAP

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