Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Is the Answer to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

If it’s not obvious to employers already, sexual harassment appears to be unabated in the workplace despite laws prohibiting it in place for decades. Many opine that #metoo and the daily revelations of sexual harassment accusations by well known celebrities represent a break in the flood gates sure to continue beyond high profile accused and accusers.

If any employer believes that their workplace is immune from sexual harassment, that employer might be hiding its proverbial head in the sand. The first thing we should understand from the daily reports of new harassment allegations is that no one and no workplace and no person is immune. The EEOC issued the results of an 18 month survey on workplace sexual harassment last year. Not surprisingly, it identified that almost one third of the approximate 90,000 claims it received in 2015 included a sex based harassment charge. Additionally, one survey result led them to the conclusion that three out of four victims of sex based harassment in the workplace don’t even report the incidents to their supervisors.

The obvious answer is that more training is required, but employers have to give the issue of training a second look. The vast majority of employers already provide anti-harassment training which is apparently not really working. The EEOC notes in its survey that most employers provide training focused on legal liability as opposed to addressing the social responsibility aspect of the issue. For instance, most employers expect that supervisors will intervene and report inappropriate behavior when they witness it, but why not empower every employee in the workplace with that task. This is not to say that employees other than supervisors who do not report possible harassment should be disciplined themselves. Rather, it is the idea that everyone should participate in maintaining a workplace environment free of harassment of any kind. Making everyone feel responsible for that will certainly reduce incidents of harassment because it will no longer be a matter of employees telling on one another, but employees protecting fairness in the workplace.

Another shift in the training paradigm is to focus not on liability but on respect for the diverse workplace. Whether diversity manifests by race, gender, religion, abilities, sexual orientation or any number of other “differences” among employees, if people respect those differences, it is bound to reduce the disrespectful behavior of sexual harassment.

Finally, the culture has to be set from the top. Leaders have to model respect for diversity and encourage training to spread that focus.

Ancel Glink offers sexual harassment training focused on these concepts along with prevention of legal liability. Contact one of our labor and employment lawyers for more details.