November 14, 2017

Preventing Sexual Harassment: 7 Tips from the EEOC

by Mike O'Neill

Harassment, especially Sexual Harassment is very much in the news nowadays.

Employers are grappling with the question, what’s the best approach to preventing sexual harassment?

Perhaps a good starting point is to review the recommendations of an EEOC Task Force.

This article offers an Executive Summary. To read the full report please click this link:

EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace

 

WORKPLACE HARASSMENT REMAINS A PERSISTENT PROBLEM

Almost one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment. This includes, among other things, charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion.

WORKPLACE HARASSMENT TOO OFTEN GOES UNREPORTED

Common workplace-based responses by those who experience sex-based harassment are to avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior. The least common response to harassment is to take some formal action – either to report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint. Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor or manager about the harassing conduct. Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.

THERE IS A COMPELLING BUSINESS CASE FOR STOPPING AND PREVENTING HARASSMENT

When employers consider the costs of workplace harassment, they often focus on legal costs, and with good reason. Last year, EEOC alone recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment – and these direct costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Workplace harassment first and foremost comes at a steep cost to those who suffer it, as they experience mental, physical, and economic harm. Beyond that, workplace harassment affects all workers, and its true cost includes decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm. All of this is a drag on performance – and the bottom-line.

IT STARTS AT THE TOP – LEADERSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY ARE CRITICAL

Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated – effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company. But a commitment (even from the top) to a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace is not enough. Rather, at all levels, across all positions, an organization must have systems in place that hold employees accountable for this expectation. Accountability systems must ensure that those who engage in harassment are held responsible in a meaningful, appropriate, and proportional manner, and that those whose job it is to prevent or respond to harassment should be rewarded for doing that job well (or penalized for failing to do so). Finally, leadership means ensuring that anti-harassment efforts are given the necessary time and resources to be effective.

TRAINING MUST CHANGE

We believe effective training can reduce workplace harassment, and recognize that ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive. However, even effective training cannot occur in a vacuum – it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top. Similarly, one size does not fit all: Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees. Finally, when trained correctly, middle-managers and first-line supervisors in particular can be an employer’s most valuable resource in preventing and stopping harassment.

_________________________

Harassment in the workplace will not stop on its own –

it’s on all of us to be part of the fight to stop workplace harassment.

– EEOC Select Task Force

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