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Harassment in the Workplace

Warning Sirens Echo as Harassment in the Workplace Rises
Harassment, like a natural disaster, can wreak havoc on any community or business. This year we had several devastating hurricanes make landfall and more workplace harassment scandals than we can count. Media coverage on harassment has recently exploded; however, harassment in the workplace is not a new issue. Organizations have been working toward harassment-free workplaces for years by taking action against individuals who violate company guidelines.

Our society’s perception of harassment has drastically changed and a perpetrator’s status no longer excuses harassment allegations. We continually watch influential people from the entertainment, media and political fields fall from grace, reinforcing that workplace harassment isn’t going to be tolerated. Industry, fame and power no longer seem to matter – we are collectively saying, “No more.” We know that preparation and planning are crucial to surviving most disasters, whether you’re faced with a hurricane or a harassment allegation.

Social Acceptance of Workplace Harassment
Following the harassment allegations against prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano initiated a social media campaign using the hashtag, “#MeToo.” Millions have used #MeToo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to acknowledge that they have experienced harassment and denounce such misconduct. This campaign has provided a platform to unite a hidden community.

This unified stance on harassment could drastically change our historical reporting statistics. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) completed a task force study in 2016 and shared that, “Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation…Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a [superior] about the harassing conduct.”

The recent spotlight on perpetrators, the swift action taken by their employers and the public support of victims will likely have an impact on this frequently buried issue. As harassment awareness grows and social acceptance shifts, we can assume more employees will begin to speak out.

Society is Changing, so Should the Workplace
According to the aforementioned study, $164.5 million was recovered in 2015 alone for victims alleging workplace harassment. Out of the nearly 90,000 charges submitted to the EEOC, almost one-third of them included an allegation of workplace harassment. The impact on the employee, organization and brand can be significantly affected by the employer’s response. As we anticipate a greater focus on this issue going forward, it is important for business owners to adapt accordingly.

Harassment training has been used as a prevention tool for more than 30 years. Although this approach is needed, employers must do more. A culture change is needed within most organizations – starting with leadership. To begin, the EEOC suggests that employers:

  • Assess the workplace for risk factors associated with harassment.
  • Develop strategies to minimize any identified risks.
  • Conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem.

Once employers understand the role harassment plays in their workplace, they should then:

  • Adopt and maintain a comprehensive anti-harassment policy, and make updates as needed.
  • Frequently communicate the anti-harassment policy and offer a multi-faceted method to report harassment.
  • Retrain managers and supervisors, and hold them accountable for preventing and responding to workplace harassment.
  • Verify that sufficient resources are in place for prevention efforts and validate their effectiveness.
  • Review the investigation process and ensure an immediate response can take place when a complaint occurs.
  • Reinforce the credibility of leadership’s commitment to creating a harassment-free workplace.

If workplace harassment is reported, a thorough and objective investigation should be launched immediately. Confidentiality should be a top priority (although complete anonymity is not always possible). If the harassment allegation is found to have merit, discipline should be swift and appropriate for the misconduct committed.

Professional Guidance
Using an integrated approach, SilverStone Group’s HR Consulting Team can assist organizations of all sizes, across all industries, with any workplace harassment issues. We can help employers develop a sound anti-harassment strategy and prepare them to address any potential complaints. From policy development to onsite training and investigations, our experienced consultants can effectively guide employers every step of the way.

Harassment allegations can arise in different ways: they can catch you off-guard like a tornado falling from the sky, or they can be like a hurricane lingering over the ocean, building up power before making landfall. We understand that business cultures can foster either of these atmospheres, but acknowledgement, preparation and planning can help your organization weather any type of storm.

For more information please contact
Andie Gordman at agordman@ssgi.com or 402.964.5624
Ashley Thomalla at athomalla@ssgi.com or 402.964.5409

 

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