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Sexual Harrassment

From the Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly scandals to the #MeToo movement on social media, sexual harassment is on everybody’s minds. The scandals have shed light on just how persistent workplace harassment still is. So what can we do? While training educates employees on what constitutes harassment, studies show it doesn’t do enough to change behavior – especially among those in positions of power.

In fact, the EEOC says the number of workplace harassment complaints has either stayed the same or risen since 2010. Here are some suggestions you can do to reduce harassment in the workplace:

  1. Adjust power inequalities. Research suggests workplaces at the highest risk for harassment are ones that have more men in leadership roles than women. This can spur an environment where women are preyed upon by their superiors, researchers say. A possible fix for this is to consider putting more women in leadership roles, conveying that women and men are equals.
  2. Make it clear harassment will not be tolerated. Leadership should hold all harassers accountable and take swift, appropriate action.
  3. Promote civility and respect. Rather than telling employees not to harass one another (which is the focus of a lot of training programs), find ways to encourage them to be respectful.
  4. Ensure everyone knows how to report harassment. Make reporting processes are clear, and encourage bystanders to take action too. Provide multiple avenues for making complaints.
  5. Ensure that concerns or complaints regarding the policy, complaint system, and/or training are addressed appropriately.
  6. Conduct anonymous employee surveys on a regular basis to assess whether harassment is occurring, or is perceived to be tolerated. Among other features, the EEOC suggests harassment policies that also:
  • Describe processes for employees to informally share or obtain information about harassment without filing a complaint.
  • Include a statement that employees are encouraged to report conduct that they believe may be prohibited harassment (or that, if left unchecked, may rise to the level of prohibited harassment), even if they are not sure that the conduct violates the policy.
  • State that the employer will provide a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation.
  • Respond to complaints by employees and by other individuals on their behalf.
  • Include processes to ensure that alleged harassers are not prematurely presumed guilty or prematurely disciplined for harassment.

The EEOC also encourages employers to appropriately document every complaint, from initial intake to investigation to resolution, use guidelines to weigh the credibility of all relevant parties, and prepare a written report documenting the investigation, findings, recommendations, and disciplinary action imposed (if any) and corrective and preventative action taken (if any).

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