Sexual Harassment Hits New Lows

Beth Dean 12.05.17
120 Do More Desktop

Over the past weeks, we’ve seen several people taken down by allegations of sexual harassment or assault. 

Men and women have stepped from behind the veil of shame and doubt and are loudly saying what we in HR have known for years: sexual harassment is real and must be taken seriously.

You may even see an uptick in harassment complaints at your workplace. While our HR team is ready for your calls and one-on-one troubleshooting, there are ways you can prepare your company now.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Culture is cultivated from the top down.

Your slick harassment handbook policy will go nowhere if it isn’t believed, preached, and heavily enforced by those at the very top levels of your company.

Taking a passive stance against harassment often indicates a bigger problem within the company’s culture. “Employers who have been passive about addressing unprofessional behavior at work have effectively established there aren’t consequences to bad behavior,” says Tracey Hixon, Nextep’s Corporate HR Director. “This creates significant liability for businesses.”

Those in senior or leadership positions have not only an ethical, but also a legal obligation to act swiftly against harassment. The Supreme Court found that managers and supervisors can be found vicariously liable if they know of harassment and allow it to continue.

It can happen to anyone.

As we’ve seen with recent cases, accusations can be complicated and even heartbreaking. Sometimes perpetrators are in positions of great power. Sometimes they’re so well-liked that no one can imagine them engaging in that kind of behavior.

Just as alleged harassers don’t always fit a certain profile, neither do those being harassed. Harassment can happen to people of any gender, any body type, any level of seniority. All complaints should be taken seriously.

Think it’s not that bad? Yes, it is.

That crass joke you just told your coworker, overheard by the person in the next cubicle who feels offended is harassment. The employee who exposes themselves to a nonconsenting coworker from across the room is engaging in harassment. Offenses don’t always have to include touching.

There’s also a tendency among some to keep the peace. They’ll laugh off an unwanted touch or advance, not wanting to make a scene, or worse, afraid to because the offender is in a position of power.

This issue means real dollars and cents.

Aside from the cultural and ethical problems, harassment can be financially devastating to a company. A sexual harassment claim that goes to court is easily a $100,000 expense, win or lose.

Even if the company survives the claim, there are still numerous soft costs in lost productivity, weakened employee retention, and potential retaliation claims. It pays to prevent harassment at your company as much as possible.

Prevention will help.

While some factors are admittedly out of your control, there are several preventative steps your company can take now to create a professional, harassment-free environment.

  • Hold regular harassment training. Nextep offers sexual harassment online training for employees and managers.
  • Make sure managers in particular are trained in how to identify harassment and how to handle complaints.
  • Review your handbook policy with your Nextep HR consultant to make sure it’s clearly written and includes procedures for making complaints. Employees should know in writing who they can go to and how the process will transpire.
  • Investigate any harassment claims right away, and secure the employee’s safety during the investigation.
  • Make it clear that your company does not tolerate any form of harassment. The employee must have trust that his or her complaint will be taken seriously.

For the skeptics:

Yes, sometimes people do make false accusations. And sometimes incidents can be genuine misunderstandings, easily rectified. Don’t let that lessen how seriously you take complaints.

The recent flood of accusations may indicate a witch hunt or twisted bid for attention among skeptics. Think of it instead as an issue that has been hidden in the shadows for far too long, now exposed in a harsh spotlight.  

The current news cycle may be giving people the courage to speak up, when they may have been too scared before. Worse, accusations that now are given legitimacy may have been ignored or downplayed before this issue became such a hot topic.

We have experience in helping companies get through tough situations, including harassment. Consider Nextep your first step if you need help getting through your own ordeal. We’re here to help.

Also on Nextep

Several states and local jurisdictions will increase their minimum wage rates on July 1, 2024. Below is a summary of these changes and guidelines to help you comply with your minimum wage requirements.  As a reminder, when federal and state or local payroll laws differ, the employer must adhere to the law that benefits the […]
Read more
Get ready for changes! As of July 1, 2024, a new wave of state laws are set to go into effect across the country. These updates impact everything from worker protections and minimum wage to important regulations for businesses. Whether you’re an employer, employee, or simply a resident staying informed, this article will guide you […]
Read more
A Game Changer for Employers The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently made a significant change regarding employers’ use of non-compete agreements. The final rule issued by the FTC prohibits the use of non-compete agreements for many workers, which is a departure from the longstanding practices of many companies. This decision is already facing legal challenges, […]
Read more
Key Points for Employers About the Latest Harassment Guidance The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently updated its guidelines on workplace harassment enforcement. This was the EEOC’s first update in more than 30 years. The updates are intended to clarify and modernize existing standards. These changes take into account recent legal developments and the […]
Read more
What You Need to Know About PWFA The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released the final regulations for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). These regulations, taking effect on June 18, 2024, update the PWFA rules put into place in 2023 and significantly impact how employers with at least 15 employees accommodate workers with […]
Read more
When Addiction Strikes at Work The issue of addiction in the workplace presents a complex challenge for both employers and employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects qualified individuals with disabilities, but active addiction itself isn’t necessarily covered. Here’s a breakdown of rights and responsibilities: Employee Rights Under the ADA Generally Not Covered: The […]
Read more
What is Considered “Reasonable”? What happens when an employee with a disability needs an adjustment to perform their job effectively? This is where reasonable accommodations come in. However, the question often arises: what exactly is considered “reasonable” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Striking a Balance The key is to find a balance between […]
Read more
It’s time for an ADA refresher! The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a cornerstone of civil rights legislation, ensuring equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. As an employer, understanding your obligations under the ADA is crucial. Here’s a breakdown of the key points: What qualifies as a disability? The ADA defines a person […]
Read more
Forced to listen? Imagine this: Your boss calls a mandatory meeting. Instead of discussing work tasks, they spend the time telling you why you should support a political candidate or a particular religious view. That’s a captive audience meeting, and it’s becoming a hot-button issue. A captive audience meeting is a mandatory work meeting where […]
Read more
At some point during the election cycle, you may encounter employees wanting to display political propaganda at work.  This can range from flags and posters to social media posts and even conversations, and it can create a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere for colleagues with differing viewpoints. So, how do you maintain a respectful workplace while […]
Read more
As a presidential election year unfolds, employers must navigate the complex landscape of voting leave laws to uphold employees’ rights while ensuring compliance with state regulations. While federal law does not mandate time off to vote, many states have enacted specific provisions. Here’s what employers need to know to navigate this terrain effectively. Understanding State […]
Read more
An Employer’s Guide to Politics in the Workplace The current political climate can be divisive, and tension can easily spill over into the workplace. When employees hold vastly different political views, it can lead to arguments, hurt feelings, and a fractured work environment. So, what’s an employer’s responsibility when it comes to politics in the […]
Read more

Download Our App


Download the Nextep Mobile App in Apple iOS or Google Play