Workplaces and offices are meant to be safe places where you can work without fear of being subjected to harassment and abuse. As highlighted by the #MeToo movement, this is not always the case.
According to data collected by LeanIn.org and McKinsey’s 2018 Women in the Workplace study, 35% of women reported being a victim of sexual harassment at their workplaces, with the subjects’ experiences ranging from hearing sexist jokes to being subjected to inappropriate physical contact.
Unfortunately, it’s a problem that affects both men and women with a report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC noting that 15.9% of the total sexual harassment complaints in 2018 were filed by men.
As defined by law, sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination that violates federal law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Illegal workplace sexual harassment can happen between coworkers, an employee and a client or customer, or an employee and their supervisor, regardless of gender. It is also not limited to workplace interactions, as the law notes that the crime can also occur in settings such as a work-related event outside of the workplace, or even during work-related travel.
Sexual harassment can take many forms, such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other sexual acts that explicitly or implicitly affect an individual’s employment.
Because sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence can cause victims to suffer from stress, severe anxiety, and depression, many people consider it to be one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through.
Sexual harassment cases are expensive, with the EEOC noting that employers paid a record $68.2 million to settle claims of harassment in 2019. In addition, a study conducted by Deloitte found that sexual harassment can result in as much as $2.62 billion in losses, mainly due to reduced productivity in victims.
It is necessary for employers and companies to bolster their policies pertaining to lewd and unacceptable behavior among their employees.
Here are some ways to help fortify laws, promote safety, and prevent sexual harassment from happening in the workplace:
Adopt a clear policy against sexual harassment
One way that employers can protect employees is by adopting a clear policy combatting sexual harassment within the company.
This includes defining what sexual harassment is in the company’s employee handbook, as well as spelling out in concrete terms, that the company does not tolerate the act—even if the harasser in question is a high-ranking official.
The company’s policy must also point out a clear procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints, and that the institution will also promptly and thoroughly investigate any complaint it receives. Any findings of improper behavior or criminal activity needs to be dealt with according to the severity of the case. An investigation that does not act upon its findings gives scope for errant behavior to further proliferate.
In addition, the policy must also spell out that the company will not tolerate any form of retaliation against anyone who complains about sexual harassment within the institution.
Train everyone in the company
Preventing sexual harassment inside the company isn’t a job that solely belongs to the Human Resources department—it’s a responsibility that should be shouldered by everyone.
A company must conduct training sessions for its employees, preferably under the guidance of sexual assault attorneys and other legal experts.
During these sessions, the company will brief its employees—including its supervisors and managers—on what sexual harassment is, as well as training them on how to be proactive through bystander intervention programs.
Aside from this, supervisors and managers should also be taught ways on how to deal with potential complaints from both the victim and the harasser.
Workplaces are expected to be places where one can perform his or her duties without running into the risk of being abused. Reports of sexual abuse and harassment must be immediately addressed. This creates an understanding and culture where any victims feel confident reporting sexual abuse which leads to a reduction in cases of sexual abuse.
If you know someone who has been subjected to sexual harassment in their workplace, one of the most important things that you can do is to give them the encouragement to seek professional and legal help.
San Diego-based law firm Hogue & Belong can help individuals who have been subjected to sexual harassment and abuse in their workplace.