Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

I am getting ready to conduct a series of trainings for a client in sexual harassment law, how to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace, and how to manage an investigation should a complaint of sexual harassment be alleged. The first thing that I would like to remind everyone is that sexual harassment is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which actually refers to anti-discrimination. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based upon sex.

One of the interesting things that I have read in the past few weeks is a report by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) about sexual harassment, company culture, and the #metoo movement. I previously talked about a case that had come out of Philadelphia that was one of the first cases to talk about the #metoo movement and its impact on sexual harassment litigation and EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Since then, we have seen a big spike in both reporting, settlements, and judgements in sexual harassment cases.

With all of this in mind, the SHRM study was a bit surprising to me because one of the findings said that

while there had been a general increase in the feeling among employees that there are now policies for managing sexual harassment claims and investigations, there is a bit of a disconnect between how the employees feel about the company culture and how leadership at those companies feel about the culture, with specific regards to sexual harassment in the workforce.

The big recommendation that the SHRM study made was that employers really need to work on their office culture, rather than simply having a mechanism whereby employees can file complaints.

Interestingly enough, the senior leadership that was surveyed stated that people should refrain from talking to women. A surprising nearly 3 out of 10 senior leaders made that statement. Ladies and gentleman, that is not going to work. That attitude counterproductive and will not address the problem.

Then we need to ask: what does it take to change the culture?

First, a company has to recognize the reality of the situation. That reality of your culture may be that sexual harassment still continues to be a problem because it is tacitly tolerated by allowing the habits and behaviors to continue. Overall, we may have cut down on the amount of overt harassment (i.e. sex in exchange for pay raises or promotions), but hostile workplaces exist often without thought. To change the culture, you first must have an understanding of what the reality is. As a small business owner, ask yourself:

  • What is the current reality?
  • Do you have an atmosphere where people can and believe it is ok to engage in sexually harassing behavior?
  • Do I and my employees have habits of engaging with one another that creates the harassing environment without even consciously doing so?
  • Do you have a culture where people are viewed differently based upon their sexual identity, their gender, or their sexuality (all of which are forms of sexual harassment)?

Stay tuned for Part II of this post to learn the steps of how to transform your office culture. Looking for someone to facilitate office orientations on sexual harassment? Contact us today.