Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although decades have passed since the passage of the law protecting employees against sex discrimination, the number of sexual harassment complaints the EEOC receives every year is staggering.
A report by a select task force to the EEOC looking into persistent harassment in the workplace asks the burning question, “With legal liability long ago established, with reputational harm from harassment well known, with an entire cottage industry of workplace compliance and training adopted and encouraged for 30 years, why does so much harassment persist and take place in so many of our workplaces?”
To get at the answer, the task force embarked on a fact finding mission. Their study identifies three main culprits that point to why the problem of sexual harassment remains pervasive in the workplace: unreported incidences of sexual harassment, workplace culture and poor training. Tackling these issues may hold the key to stemming sexual harassment in the workplace..
Unreported Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Nearly one third of complaints the EEOC receives include allegations of workplace harassment, yet many incidences of sexual harassment go unreported. Roughly 3 out of 4 of those harassed never talk to a supervisor or manager for fear their claim will not be believed or that nothing will be done. Many believe they will be retaliated against if they speak up, so they remain silent.
Instead, victims of sexual harassment commonly avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the situation, attempt to ignore, forget or endure the behavior, which does little to stop the cycle of abuse. Only when employees push back on sexual harassment in the workplace will changes start to occur.
Sexual Harassment’s Trickle-Down Effect
Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish. Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace must start at the highest levels of management to set the tone that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Systems must be in place to make all employees aware of the expectations and those who do harass – at all levels – must be held accountable for their actions.
Training for the Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Up to now, training has been too focused on solely avoiding legal liability, which sends a message of “don’t get caught” rather than “it isn’t right”. To make training more effective as a prevention tool, new models should be employed and tailored to the specific workforces and workplaces, and to different cohorts of employees. Two models that hold promise include ‘bystander intervention’, which empowers employees to stick up for each other when they witness harassment, and ‘workplace civility’ training, which deals with respecting people in general. Providing targeted trading to middle managers and first line supervisors is key to preventing sexual harassment in their respective areas.
All of Us Are Part of the Solution
In their final report, the select task force to the EEOC investigating the persistent problem of harassment tin the workplace recommend designing effective anti-harassment policies, developing training curricula, implementing complaint, reporting, and investigation procedures, creating an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated and assessing and responding to workplace “risk factors” for harassment. Because harassment in the workplace will not stop on its own, it’s on ‘all of us’ to be part of the solution.
Contact an Experienced Workplace Sexual Harassment Attorney
If you have been discriminated against at work on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identity or pregnancy, contact employment law attorney Marc Humphrey for assistance today at 515-331-3510.