Sexual harassment is a serious problem in the workplace and unfortunately, has been for years. Times are certainly changing as now five states in the U.S. have mandated that companies conduct sexual harassment training – California, New York, Maine, Connecticut and Delaware. Regardless of a training requirement, many companies can easily fall into the “not us” trap of complacency. This mindset leads managers and leaders to overlook claims or not investigate them properly, and employees to not report them all.
In October of 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral. This movement has been around since 2006, but gained large-scale traction once actress Alyssa Milano encouraged victims of sexual harassment to tweet out their experience. This showed the magnitude of the problem and led to an outcry of messages from people all over the world, including several high-profile celebrities. According to the EEOC, in the following year 2018 the amount of charges for sexual harassment claims had risen 13.6%. EEOC counterpart state agencies have seen even greater increases.
If a company’s culture does not truly value respect, open communication, and psychological safety, the company is at risk for sexual harassment behavior. Leaders must understand that the cost of dealing with a mishandled sexual harassment claim can be significant, and more than just monetary. The company’s reputation, culture and overall productivity and success are on the line. There’s a risk of losing customers and investors, and it could affect the company’s ability to recruit and retain new talent. This pain can be prevented by proactively approaching this difficult topic.
Methods of Prevention:
- Establish strong anti-harassment policies
- Develop an anti-harassment policy together with employees and managers.
- All managers and supervisors must understand the policy and their responsibility to foster and maintain a harassment-free work environment.
- Show you mean it – communicate that the policy applies to everyone, including managers, supervisors, top leaders and owners.
- Train employees to assume an active role in prevention.
- Ensure they fully understand the company policy.
- Train them to be aware of subtle forms of harassment.
- Stress the importance of bystander awareness and paying attention to others’ response to situations.
- Provide protection and support for employees who feel they are being harassed
- Reiterate that all employees must report claims, and give them multiple avenues in which to do so.
- Do not tolerate retaliation of any kind.
- Create and maintain a safe work culture by encouraging employees to speak up against harassment.
Sexual harassment is not something to look past; it harms the victims and the employer. Take proactive steps to prevent it, such as policy development and training, so your employees do not become part of the 70% of workers who do not report incidents, according to the EEOC.