As dating app Tinder is being sued by an ex-vice president for sexual harassment, the startup's alleged missteps can offer a few lessons for small business owners.
Ex-VP of marketing Whitney Wolfe claims that Tinder's executives bombarded her with sexist and insulting comments, emails, and texts, and that high-level execs at Tinder's parent company IAC/InterActiveCorp did nothing to stop it. An IAC spokesman told The New York Times that Wolfe's claims were "unfounded."
As the case proceeds, here are three lessons that business owners can glean from this Tinder sexual harassment suit:
1. Enforce Consensual Relationship Agreements.
According to Wolfe's suit, much of the trouble started after she broke off things romantically with Tinder's Chief Marketing Officer Justin Mateen. Whether it was jealousy or just complete lack of managerial sense, Wolfe alleges that Mateen called her a "whore" in front of the company's CEO Sean Rad and subjected her to various demeaning verbal assaults in the workplace.
It's a practical reality that people who work together often become romantically entangled. As a business owner, you want to balance both the need of your employees and supervisors to be emotional human beings, as well as your company's need to avoid creating a hostile work environment.
But you can minimize the damage with a consensual relationship agreement. These agreements typically make the company's sexual harassment policy known to both parties who are agreeing to enter into the agreement, as well as shield the company from future allegations that the relationship was quid pro quo for advancement.
2. Respond Properly to Complaints of Harassment.
Whether it's complaints of alleged racism or sexual harassment, employers must respond to complaints of misconduct.
One of Wolfe's chief complaints was that Tinder's CEO and other higher-ups ignored her pleas for help regarding Mateen's treatment. Instead, Wolfe claims that Rad bullied her into resigning after she informed him about her concerns. It is legal suicide to retaliate against employees in this manner.
3. Investigate Before, Not After.
The New York Times reports that Mateen has now been suspended pending an internal investigation of Tinder. While that might be an appropriate course of action, it comes a bit too late to avoid legal action.
Promptly investigating employee harassment complaints can potentially shield your company from liability, but it can't simply be a sham to prevent lawsuits. This means beginning an internal investigation shortly after a complaint is lodged, not after a lawsuit hits your desk.
Tinder may indeed weather this sexual-harassment lawsuit, but if you learn from the company's alleged mistakes, your business may be able to steer clear of trouble.
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