The last few weeks it seems that I’ve been reading about sexual harassment in the workplace issues a lot more. Here are a few examples:
- Gretchen Carlson sues Fox News’ Roger Ailes.
- Suit Says Managing Partner Pressured Female Staff for Sex
- Sexual Harassment Still a Reality in the Workplace
- Interior chief: ‘Culture’ of sexual harassment probably pervades the National Park Service
So what’s going on? Is sex harassment increasing? Or is this just another round of increased focused placed on a problem that still persists?
Well, if you look at the statistics, you can see part of the story — and part of the problem trying to glean trends from the numbers too.
Last year, I reported on some statistics from the state level about harassment claims. Indeed, sex harassment cases were down significantly, but general “I’ve been harassed” claims were up nearly 200% over the last decade or so.
The EEOC statistics show slightly different numbers. Sex harassment claims went up by a modest 4 percent in fiscal year 2015, though more generalized “harassment” under Title VII claims also increased by 6 percent.
So, which is it? Up or down? Statistics on case filing don’t tell the full story. Surveys (yes, including the one in Cosmopolitan magazine) show that women still think some workplaces have issues.
But I would argue that chasing statistics is missing the point. Rather, it’s the perception of whether this is a hot issue that will drive the discussion. And to that, we’re definitely seeing renewed interest. For example, a few weeks ago, the EEOC issued some findings and statements from a select task force calling on stakeholders “to double down and ‘reboot’ workplace harassment prevention efforts“. This increased focus on the area will once again bring the issues of sexual harassment to the forefront.
What’s an employer to do? Well, start with the obvious. Review your existing policies. Are they strong enough? Do they need to be updated to reflect current practices? And then review your existing training. Is it updated? Or is it still stuck in the 1990s? And then look at how your workplace is actually functioning.
Beyond that the EEOC has a whole list of suggestions for employers to follow. You can view the entire compilation, but here are a few examples:
- Employers should foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and in which respect and civility are promoted. Employers should communicate and model a consistent commitment to that goal.
- Employers should assess their workplaces for the risk factors associated with harassment and explore ideas for minimizing those risks.
- Employers should conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem in their organization.
- Employers should devote sufficient resources to harassment prevention efforts, both to ensure that such efforts are effective, and to reinforce the credibility of leadership’s commitment to creating a workplace free of harassment.
- Employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. In addition, employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is consistent, and does not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee.
- Employers should hold mid-level managers and front-line supervisors accountable for preventing and/or responding to workplace harassment, including through the use of metrics and performance reviews.
- If employers have a diversity and inclusion strategy and budget, harassment prevention should be an integral part of that strategy.
HR personnel have a lot on their plate now; be sure harassment prevention remains there as well.