In 2018, over 13,000 sex-based harassment claims were filed
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This number doesn’t
include charges filed with state and local agencies or situations where
employees went directly to an attorney. And many employees who are victims of
sexual harassment or are affected by it never report the incidents at all.
Victims and witnesses of harassment often refrain from
reporting because the harasser has the power to retaliate or because the
organization has not set up adequate channels for reporting. In other cases,
victims report the harassment, but nothing is done about it. The harassment is
excused, and the complaints are rebuffed. Word gets around that the
organization tolerates harassment, and people stop bothering to report it. They
either keep quiet, file charges with a governmental agency, or call an
None of these outcomes is good for employers or for the
people they employ. If the case ends up in court, harassment can cost employers
hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more!), especially if harassment is
pervasive in the company culture. And when harassment continues unabated,
victims suffer physically and psychologically, and often see their careers take
a wrong turn.
It goes without saying that the workplace should be a safe
and secure place, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to make it that way.
No one can prevent all harassment from happening, but employers can and should
do everything in their power to prevent harassment and appropriately respond
when it occurs. This starts by having a solid harassment policy and complaint
procedure that all employees can easily understand and access. Employers should
establish multiple options for reporting, and ensure that they investigate
allegations promptly and thoroughly, taking appropriate steps to discipline
Training employees on what constitutes harassment and how to
respond to it is also recommended – while written policies and procedures are
essential, employees will have a deeper understanding if they are offered the
information in other formats as well, such as live training with visuals, examples,
and time for questions and answers.
The EEOC recommends these additional preventive measures:
For any of these measures to work, employees need to know
that if they report harassment, their report will be taken seriously, they’ll
be protected from retaliation, and the harassment will stop. In short, they
need to trust their employer. Consequently, anything an employer does to foster
distrust will make anti-harassment measures much less effective. When it comes
to preventing harassment, employers cannot say one thing and do another.
Honesty and accountability are key. Trust can take time to build, but it can be
lost in a moment.
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