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House of Cards memo to staff shows importance of workplace policies

Popular series House of Cards has come to a close, but it highlights how the production company behind it made good on a promise to support staff in a memo regarding sexual harassment.
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House of Cards star Kevin Spacey will unlikely quickly regain the respect he once had from audiences worldwide after sexual harassment claims bubbled to the surface. The Independent later reported he was dropped by his publicist and The Telegraph made clear that completed Ridley Scott film, All the Money in the World, will have scenes he starred in redone.

Actor Christopher Plummer, The Telegraph said, would be taking on Spacey’s role. And following his removal from the film, Netflix and production company Media Rights Capital (MRC) took action by shutting down House of Cards. This, a former employee working with the show alleged to CNN, was more due to Spacey’s creation of “a toxic work environment”.

CNN claimed to speak with eight employees working on the House of Cards set, all of whom portrayed Spacey’s behaviour as “predatory”, including “non-consensual touching and crude comments.”

Perhaps the lack of complaint against Spacey ahead of this time was due to the respect he evoked in his field, not to mention his position as an executive producer for House of Cards. Indeed, it’s this combination, one of the eight employees said, that prevented people from giving voice to their concerns.

“He was a man in a very powerful position on the show and I was someone very low on the totem pole and on the food chain there,” the production assistant allegedly told CNN.

“Who is going to believe crew members?” another said. “You’re going to get fired.”

What changed then? Some point to Anthony Rapp, who was the first to hold Spacey to account. He told BuzzFeed news he had been the victim of his advances at the age of 14. The Harvey Weinstein case also opened the floodgates, encouraging more people to be open about their experiences.

But what some might not know is that before the Spacey allegations started, MRC had hoped to address the matter of sexual harassment. Three days after the Harvey Weinstein media storm, a memo was sent to staff, requiring them all to take an expansive online course named Risky Business.

“With the issue of sexual harassment front and centre in the news, this couldn’t come at a better time,” Page Six outlined the memo as having said. “At the top of each production year, we have forwarded our policy and procedure regarding the issue as part of the employment package.

“But for season six of House of Cards, we decided to take it a step further and worked to create the Risky Business program, designed to help personnel navigate any difficult issues that may arise. It will also give you the tools to handle and/or avoid any ‘risky situations.’”

While Rapp may have started the conversation regarding Spacey, it was also only after the introduction of the course and policy that staff on House of Cards became vocal. The memo reiterated that certain behaviour would not be tolerated from any angle, and the expulsion of Spacey from Netflix content and suspension of the series is proof of that.

The memo is an example of how management has effectively made clear the value it places on staff, and if bosses haven’t already encouraged a safer work environment then perhaps they should. After all, as Spacey shows, such behaviour can come from any area within the business.

As MRC included in its statement: “Consistently reinforce the importance of employees reporting any incident without fear of retaliation and investigate and take appropriate actions following any complaints.”

Have you ever been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace? Perhaps your company has had to deal with the matter? Please contact editors@realbusiness.co.uk to share what happened, and we will treat all matters disclosed treated with confidentiality.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is the deputy editor of Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business