NASHVILLE, Tenn. - If you have no Human Resources department at your place of work, how do you deal with or report sexual harassment? That's the question that has been brought up following allegations of sexual misconduct from Kirt Webster toward previous employees and clients at Webster PR.
The law states employers have to have a policy in place to prevent and correct sexual harassment, and if they do have complaints, they need to promptly and appropriately investigate those complaints and remedy them.
For employees at Webster PR, when they allegedly experienced sexual harassment, many felt they didn't have many options.
"It feels like, from their perspective, they either need to leave or stay and take it. Neither of which is an acceptable remedy," Ann Martin, a partner and employment lawyer at Bone McAllester Norton, said, adding that she's worked with plenty of people who have been in a situation where they didn't know where to turn for help. "It takes a ton of courage for people to come forward."
After Austin Rick came forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against Kirt Webster, many employees found a platform to make their voices heard that they never had while at Webster PR.
"It goes back to just feeling hopeless," one former Webster employee said. "There's no HR. There's no one to file a complaint with."
According to Martin, that feeling can span throughout all small business. "You work for a mom and pop organization, and pop is the problem. Who is going to control pop? Who can you go to to complain about pop? There's nobody in the organization higher than that person who can control that person or deliver that message," Martin explained.
Employees with no HR department can reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Human Rights Commission in Tennessee for help, or they can seek the help of a lawyer, but that leaves many afraid of what could come next.
"You don't want to get blackballed in an industry, and unfortunately, we do see that that happens," Martin said.
The law does protect employees from being retaliated against for complaining about discrimination or harassment, but in industries where everyone knows each other, there can be no guarantee that news won't get out and judgments won't be made.
People in that position are in a tough place. They're vulnerable, and lawyers cost a lot of money with no guarantees.
A lot of harassment claims can be hard to argue in court because there's a lot of he-said, she-said, but generally, the more people that come forward with similar stories, the stronger a case can be.