Up to 86% of women report that they have been sexually harassed at work, based on a 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report. The #MeToo Movement is creating an environment that provides a feeling of a support group, that you are not alone if you come forward. The impact of this movement carries over to the workplace with the pitfalls of harassment being great; including millions of dollars in settlements, low employee morale, high-job turnover, increased sick leave, and low productivity. According to the 2016 EEOC report, it indicates that employers paid $699 million to workers alleging harassment going back to 2010—which does not include indirect costs such as lower productivity or high turnover. Federal law caps the damages at $300,000, however, under many state laws there are no limitations and juries have awarded substantial verdicts in egregious cases.
There is now a definition in Wikipedia of the Weinstein effect– defined as a global trend in which people come forward to accuse famous or powerful men of sexual misconduct. The Institute for Corporate Productivity conducted a survey among professionals to gauge how Human Resources are helping their organization handle the impact of this movement. Information from the survey concludes that one-in-five organizations are taking steps to prepare to handle an increase in new (and renewed) sexual harassment claims, a quarter of respondents report that they have a plan in place or are devising one. Over 70% of respondents state that their sexual harassment training is mandatory with half indicating that the training is effective. Only half of the respondents report that they trust HR to handle sensitive issues effectively.
Organizations need to determine how to move forward with their previous policy and what changes need to be made. Questions to consider include: What constitutes crossing the line? Are there degrees and distinctions? Employers need to use clear, concrete language to communicate standards of behavior to employees in the workplace that are unacceptable. Some steps to take to review policies include:
- Develop clear, concrete language to communicate standards of behavior in the workplace among colleagues, vendors, and clients
- Update training and policies on training; no more ‘click-through training and complete as fast as possible’
- Provide an extra level of training to managers as they are likely to receive the complaints
- Determine how incidences should be reported (ombudsman, hotline, or third-party)
- Improve reporting procedures so transparency makes the “whisper network” visible
- Be accountable—not just the perpetrator but by the bystander as well. Men and women who see harassment in action should let the victim know they are supported
- Encourage the CEO to develop and distribute an email to employees affirming the company’s zero tolerance against harassment and ensure that the CEO backs it up
An example of the recent impact of the movement was reflected in changes some organizations made to their annual office holiday party in December–it was scrutinized much more closely. A survey by an outplacement consulting firm found that only 49% of companies planned to serve alcohol, down from 62% in 2016. Other companies’ limited alcohol drinks by providing two drink tickets.
Overall, due to the current environment and openness toward communicating harassment, it is expected to be on the rise in 2018. It will be important for your organization to review current policies and procedures, training, and communication of the company’s zero-tolerance policy. Companies need to take accountability for not only acknowledging it but also being part of the solution.
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