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How to Reduce Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

If Your Company Has 100 Employees, at Least One is Sexually Harassing Colleagues – And it’s Still Happening Much More than it’s Reported

Failing to Take Action is Part of the Problem

Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) comes in all shapes and sizes, but perhaps the most detrimental type of CWB is the kind that creates a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment is one such behavior, and allowing it to go on unchecked can result in disastrous consequences for a business.

Although most business owners will agree that sexual harassment is unacceptable, you might be surprised at how frequently it occurs in the workplace. The 2018 Hiscox Workplace Harassment Study suggests that one out of every three employees have experienced sexual harassment while on the job. Another report entitled, “The Elephant in the Valley” discovered that numbers are higher within traditionally male-dominated fields. The study found that 60% of women in the tech industry reported unwanted sexual advances.

Accounting for sexual harassment across the board, around 65% of women admitted that the behavior came from a superior. More than half of respondents recalled that harassment had occurred on more than one occasion.

Of course, women aren’t the only victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. As recently as 2018, 13% of men in the U.S. reported they’d experienced similarly inappropriate behavior in a professional setting. Research also suggests that younger employees are more likely to become victims of harassment.

“Unwanted sexual advances were far more common when I was in my 20s and early 30s than today,” one woman told The Elephant in the Valley.

That’s why some states require companies with a certain number of employees to provide sexual-harassment training to their staff. However, the unfortunate fact is that, as of 2018, 36% of companies offered no training on the subject. Looking at businesses with less than 200 employees, that figure increased to 54% despite increased efforts to raise awareness with the #MeToo movement.

Given the impact such behavior can have on a company and its employees, however, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest to implement sexual-harassment training. Furthermore, business owners and managers shouldn’t kid themselves into believing that training alone prevents harassment from taking place.

To take the issue seriously, businesses must adopt a proactive approach that involves proper screening methods and taking complaints and concerns seriously. Around 37% of respondents to the 2018 Hiscox Workplace Harassment Study reported that they were dissatisfied with how their concerns were addressed. This proves that businesses still have plenty of work to do.

It’s also worth noting that inappropriate behavior can come from customers or clients. Even if harassment isn’t coming from one of your employees, however, your staff’s safety should always be addressed.

If your business fails to keep this type of CWB at bay, there are numerous ways it can impact the company’s health and bottom line.

Perhaps most alarming is how often the behavior goes unreported. According to the Hiscox Study, four out of ten people who feel they were harassed didn’t report the incident to company management or the police due to four main reasons:

  • Fear of a hostile work environment
  • Fear of retaliation from employer
  • Fear management wouldn’t properly handle the situation
  • Fear of retaliation from the harasser

Legal Consequences

Under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is punishable by law. Even if a company isn’t aware that sexual harassment is happening behind its doors, an employee facing such behavior can file a lawsuit against the business as a whole. This doesn’t just lead to legal hurdles, but also costs money to fight or settle in court. As of 2018, the cost of settling a sexual harassment lawsuit fell anywhere between $50,000 for smaller companies and $300,000 for larger companies.

To avoid such expensive repercussions, it’s critical your business takes any accusation of sexual harassment seriously. This may necessitate taking action against employees proven to engage in these behaviors. The loss of one employee will hardly compare to the fallout of an expensive lawsuit, however.

Negative Perceptions

Companies have been outed for ignoring sexual harassment — intentionally or not — and those publicly associated with such a situation can face long-term negative perceptions. As demonstrated during the harassment lawsuits filed against McDonalds, subjects like this often find their way to the news. That could shape the way potential customers and clients view your business whether you like it or not.

For the sake of your reputation, maintaining a safe and welcoming work environment is a must. And that’s something companies should strive for even without the external concerns. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that happy employees tend to be more productive, a fact that leads into our next point.

A Hostile Environment

No one enjoys working in a hostile workplace every day, and victims of sexual harassment are likely to demonstrate low morale. This can result in decreased productivity, increased distractions and mistakes, and an unhappiness that could rub off on other workers. Put simply, your company’s health and bottom line will suffer because your employees don’t feel safe or looked after.

On top of that, there’s always a chance that employees facing continued harassment will leave your company. Employee turnaround can be expensive, especially if it becomes repetitive. Why lose good employees and money when you can solve the problem at its root? It’s much easier and less costly to get rid of employees who engage CWB than it is to deal with the fallout of an unsafe, toxic workplace.

How You Can Take Action

If you want to ensure sexual harassment doesn’t take place at your company, there are several things you can do. For one, implementing a solid screening process that involves character assessments can weed out those likely to engage in such behaviors before they get through the doors. At Verensics, we offer online interview software that can pick up on red flags by subtly pushing candidates to reveal details about themselves they might not disclose otherwise. Online interviews like ours can save companies time and money by ensuring the employees they onboard aren’t likely to create problems down the road.

Of course, sexual-harassment trainings help to clarify which behaviors won’t be tolerated at your company, so leveraging those — no matter the size of your business — can be useful. However, following these trainings, it’s critical to follow through on the rules you’ve put in place. This means taking complaints seriously, investigating them thoroughly, and penalizing anyone caught engaging in harassment. This will show your employees that you value their safety and well-being, and it will protect you from expensive lawsuits and scandals. Really, it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.

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