José Manuel García Represa

Clients anxious to ensure their compliance programmes properly address the issue of sexual harassment – Dechert

The ‘Me Too’ movement has raised awareness of sexual harassment and has prompted companies and their senior management to pay closer attention to the problem


With workplace sexual harassment being under the global spotlight in the wake of the ‘Me Too’ campaign, clients are seeking help from law firms with the objective of ensuring their compliance policies properly address this issue. “The global ‘Me Too’ movement has been a significant development in compliance,” says Mauricio España, partner at Dechert in New York. “The most senior management and shareholders currently expect that their compliance programmes and policies will focus on preventing and detecting sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Law firms are already being contacted by clients who want to ensure that their existing compliance programmes and policies incorporate measures relating to sexual harassment, says José Manuel García Represa, partner at Dechert in Paris. “We have been approached by clients that are seeking guidance regarding the issue of whether their compliance programmes and policies sufficiently address sexual harassment and discrimination,” says García Represa. “We have seen a heightened awareness of these issues, which is causing companies to take steps to ensure that their policies and programmes are sufficiently robust and effective.”

Training employees
However, García Represa argues that the subject of sexual harassment has always been an ongoing concern for companies. “Most company policies, programmes and codes of ethics already address sexual harassment and discrimination in some form,” he explains. España echoes this view: “Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace has always been something companies have prohibited and strived to avoid. However, the ‘Me Too’ movement has raised awareness, and this has prompted companies and their senior management to place a greater emphasis on, and pay closer attention to, these issues.”
According to García Represa, there are a number of ways in which the ‘Me Too’ movement is generating significant opportunities for law firms. “It’s not only giving law firms opportunities to improve compliance policies and programmes, it also involves providing training to employees to ensure that they are aware of not only the prohibitions against sexual harassment and discrimination, but also their rights with regard to the same,” he adds.  García Represa also says that companies are taking the step of conducting internal investigations into “allegations or suspicions of sexual harassment and discrimination.”

Earning rewards
The major developments in global compliance have focused on the need for companies to have effective, risk-based compliance programmes and policies in place, with the ‘Me Too’ issue being just one of many areas of concern. “Regulators in the US have explicitly stated that it is their expectation that companies build and implement these types of risk-based programmes and that companies that meet those expectations will be rewarded,” explains España. “In addition, lawyers are seeing a similar focus in Latin America.”

Risk-based assessment
Yet the task of determining whether compliance programmes are adequate, sufficiently focused and effective is a challenging one, according to España. “Therefore, not every programme or policy should be the same, as what may be effective or sufficient for one company may not be enough for another,” he adds. “That is why conducting a risk-based assessment of a company’s compliance programme and its policies – which is what regulators expect – will enable a company to determine what type of programme works best.”

Regulators on the lookout
With regard to the emerging trends in compliance, García Represa expects to see regulators adopting a strategy of closely monitoring whether companies have the necessary compliance programmes and policies in place. “We will also see more regulators in various countries collaborating in order to determine whether companies are engaged in wrongdoing and whether they have effective compliance programmes,” he adds.