Allegations of sexual harassment have made headlines across virtually all areas of society: churches, entertainment, politics, businesses, non-profits, sports, and education. In October 2017, the #MeToo hashtag was used by more than 4.7 million people on Facebook during the first 24 hours to disclose stories of harassment and abuse. Time magazine even named "The Silence Breakers" as its 2017 Person of the Year, recognizing those who came forward with their stories to help spark a nationwide movement to break the silence. The movement has resulted in countless executives being fired, public figures disgraced, and even criminal charges.
While the details of the sexual harassment allegations being brought to light may vary, the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace is significant. In a November 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University, 60% of women reported they had experienced sexual harassment, with 69% of those incidents taking place at work. Men have also been victims, with 17% of sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) coming from men.
Four Steps to Reduce Risk
How can an organization lower the risk of sexual harassment in their workplace? PHLY recommends taking the following steps:
1) Be compliant with the law. Have a written policy that explicitly forbids sexual harassment as it is defined by the EEOC. Train all employees (including part-time and contract employees) on your policy and how they can respond to events they experience or observe. Assure employees that they will be protected against retaliation. Ensure all allegations are investigated and resolution reached in a timely and complete manner, with privacy respected for all parties. Finally, review your policy with legal counsel and/or third party human resources consultants.
2) Remain vigilant. Ensure that your policy is communicated regularly and enforced consistently. Many organizations communicate their sexual harassment policies through annual training, and in some states this is mandated for management staff. Beyond the training, organizations must ensure that these policies are followed by all employees. Without consistent enforcement, training will not be effective. In a 2015 study, the EEOC stated that while trainings appear to help in educating what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, there is not clear evidence that the training changes attitudes or behaviors. Therefore, organizations must be actively engaged to identify sexual harassment and to enforce their own policies when harassment is discovered.
3) Start at the top. Sexual harassment is as much about corporate culture as it is about policies and procedures. Examining and changing corporate culture begins with senior leadership. Top executives need to examine their own attitudes and actions, be vocal advocates for anti-harassment efforts, and incorporate behaviors at the C-suite on down that shows respect for all employees and zero-tolerance for would-be harassers. In addition, diversity in management positions can help to increase awareness and promote an anti-harassment culture.
4) Be creative. Honestly assess your sexual harassment prevention efforts to determine if they are stale and ineffective, or accessible and current. Consider these ideas for breathing life into your anti-harassment efforts:
Employ an engagement survey that includes questions on how employees feel about their workplace environment with regards to sexual harassment
Review the harassment reporting process to ensure ease and anonymity; consider providing more than one channel for employees to report harassment incidents
Conduct a review of your management staff and human resources personnel to ensure that they are handling allegations of sexual harassment according to your policies and as effectively as possible
Review company events where alcohol is served: is alcohol necessary, is it served and consumed responsibly, and are employee behaviors in line with company policies during such events?
Review and change up your sexual harassment training - incorporate live elements if previous training was 100% computer-based, include a quiz to help ensure understanding, and consider updating your training materials
Identify additional resources you can share with managers regarding sexual harassment - including what to look for and how to handle complaints or allegations
Be prepared through table-top exercises; identify experts who can assist during the pre-investigation process, even before an allegation or claim presents itself
Philadelphia Insurance Companies can assist policyholders with implementing sexual harassment training, identifying additional resources for managers, and accessing legal expertise. If you have Employment Practices Liability Insurance coverage with PHLY, the following resources available are available to you at no additional cost:
Training: Through PHLY's SmarterNow learning management system, you can access the following training modules, with no usage limitations: