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Statement of Stephanie Martz, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the National Retail Federation

Industry Leaders Roundtable Discussion on Harassment Prevention
March 20, 2019

Acting Chair Lipnic, Commissioner Burrows, thank you for inviting me to participate in this important conversation. By way of introduction, I am Stephanie Martz and currently serve as Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the National Retail Federation. I appreciate the opportunity today to discuss how the retail industry is combatting discrimination of all forms, including sexual harassment.

NRF is the world's largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. The retail industry is the nation's largest private sector employer and its workforce is diverse. Women comprise 50.1 percent of retail workers and 45.9 percent of "first line supervisors of retail workers." Furthermore, women are employed in 58.7 percent of "professional and related occupations" and 46.8 percent of "management, professional, and financial operations occupations" in retail. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and retailers are committed to ensuring their workplaces are free from discrimination of all kinds, including sexual harassment, and take that responsibility very seriously.

The #MeToo movement sparked a necessary and healthy conversation around anti-discrimination policies, shortcomings, and best practices. This national conversation and the EEOC's extensive work concerning harassment has prompted many employers to assess their prevention and compliance efforts and continue to seek out best practices to effectively combat harassment. By way of background, NRF hosts two annual meetings of retail labor counsel and human resources professionals to facilitate the sharing of best practices and conducts regular benchmarking among our members. Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination efforts have been frequent topics of discussion for decades, and we were fortunate to have Acting Chair Lipnic address our Committee on Employment Law on the #MeToo movement in the Fall of 2017.

I can confidently say retailers have long taken a holistic approach to ensure harassment is not tolerated at any level and continue to go above and beyond what the law requires. Beyond their legal obligations, retailers recognize the severe impacts that unreported or unaddressed instances of discrimination can have on the workplace, the well-being of their employees, and their ability to attract and retain a skilled and diverse workforce.

NRF members have comprehensive policies in place to ensure complaints are taken seriously; investigations are timely, objective, and professional; strong anti-retaliation protections are in effect; and prompt and proportionate discipline measures are taken. In a non-scientific benchmarking survey of NRF members last year, retailers unanimously responded that they have anti-harassment policies in place that address each of the previously stated criteria. Their policies are disseminated through multiple channels to all employees, including through company handbooks, intranet, training, new hire orientation, posters, brochures, email, and/or discussions. Notably, 88 percent of retail respondents disseminate their policies in two or more modes of communication.

In addition to these policies, retailers recognize that training and a company culture of respect and inclusion are critical to effective prevention and compliance efforts. Retailers conduct routine training and education to increase awareness around the issue of harassment and to reinforce their company's policies and inclusive culture. Comprehensive training efforts are coupled with a commitment at the most senior levels of the company to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace with open lines of communication for all employees. Retailers participating in NRF's survey and in-person discussions unanimously report that they require regular training. However, one challenge NRF and its members have identified is the importance of having tailored training to maximize effectiveness. As a consumer facing industry, retailers must incorporate training that addresses the unique realities of the retail workplace. Our members continue to evolve their training to reflect best practices, the needs of their employees, and examples specific to a retail setting.

Equally important components to preventing and addressing instances of harassment are a reporting system that is well-known to all employees and an investigation process. Retailers have formal complaint processes in place and often place posters in the worksite reminding employees of their company's complaint procedures and anti-retaliation protections with appropriate contact information. Above all, these measures seek to ensure that every employee has a voice, regardless of their seniority or worksite location.

As a best practice, retailers employ multi-faceted reporting systems that employees or bystanders can use to lodge a complaint. Retailers report using 1-800 numbers, which can be anonymous, and confidential websites to enable employees to bypass their work location and/or supervisors. Furthermore, some retailers have begun implementing mobile apps to enable employees to file complaints, which may be particularly appealing to younger workers. These resources are in addition to in-person reporting to HR and other personnel. When a complaint is filed, regardless of the mechanism, retailers undertake prompt and thorough investigations accompanied by appropriate disciplinary measures where necessary.

Beyond these formal processes, a supportive environment, leading by example, and a zero-tolerance policy concerning retaliation send a strong signal to employees that harassment will not be tolerated at any level. These factors lead to employees coming forward and filing complaints, which I believe demonstrates that the policies and procedures retailers have in place work in the unfortunate instances in which harassment occurs.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share some of the efforts underway in the retail industry. I look forward to learning from others and participating in this important dialogue.