As sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein continue to mount against him, employers are beginning to take a second look at their own harassment policies to avoid being a part of the next scandal. According to a 2016 study released by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

This is a wide gap of course, but take into consideration that at even the most modest estimate, 1 in 4 women reported experiencing some form of undefined “sexual harassment” in the workplace.

When the EEOC’s report dug even further, the percentage of course began to rise. When employees were asked whether they had “experienced one or more specific sexually-based behaviors, such as unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion,” the rate rose to approximately 40% of women. When using convenience samples, researchers saw the rate rise up to 75% – and even 90% in one case.

With sexual harassment being so apparently prevalent in the workplace, you would think Employers and HR Managers would be up to their necks in reports. However, studies show that 6% to 13% of individuals who experience harassment file a formal complaint – meaning an average of 87% to 94% of individuals do not. Employees tend not to report sexual harassment behaviors for a number of fears; they will not be believed, they may be blamed, nothing will end up happening to the offender, or they may face some form of retaliation. While that last one may sound extreme, a 2003 study found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment did, in fact, face some form of retaliation.

Employers are both morally and legally obligated to stop workplace harassment. That much is clear. As if that weren’t reason enough, it’s also beneficial to your business as well. In the case of a sexual harassment lawsuit; time, energy, and resources are diverted away from the operation of the business and are put towards legal representation, settlements, litigation, court awards, and damages. Naturally, you’re protecting your bottom line by stopping sexual harassment at your company, but you’re also potentially protecting employees from a lifetime of damage psychologically, physically, occupationally, and economically.

In addition, employers should also consider the damage that workplace harassment can inflict on their company’s reputation. Media attention of sexual harassment allegations has increased significantly in recent years, with companies like Uber, Google, and Fox News on the receiving end of public scrutiny towards their employee relations. Before a case like this happens, employers need to cultivate internal strategies that protect their employees by reducing, or ideally eliminating, workplace sexual harassment. In turn, these actions can help foster a more positive image and company culture that leads to the attraction and retention of talented employees.

Employers should work with their HR Management and leadership team to assess their workplace(s) for risk factors associated with harassment, find ways to minimize those risks, and create a culture where harassment of any kind is not tolerated, and where respect is lauded. Reports of harassment should be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly, with a clear understanding that retaliation of any form is grounds for termination. It can sometimes take sufficient resources to put together and enforce harassment prevention and enforcement efforts, however, the cost of prevention is well worth it. Considering the alternative; loss of employees and potential employees, ruined brand image, exorbitant legal fees, and personal – sometimes irreparable – damage to the victim(s), fighting back against harassment in the workplace should be a no-brainer for any employer.

Emplicity understands that HR Outsourcing should be simple and meaningful. As a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), we strive to be a great partner in supporting your business. If you would like to request more information on how we can assist your needs, please reach out to us at 877-476-2339. We are located in California – Orange County, Los Angeles, and the greater Sacramento and San Francisco area.

NOTICE: Emplicity provides HR advice and recommendations. Information provided by Emplicity is not intended as a substitute for employment law counsel. At no time will Emplicity have the authority or right to make decisions on behalf of their clients.

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