Originally published March 14, 2018. Updated October 28, 2020.
Sexual harassment is illegal, yet it seems to be a growing issue as we hear more and more about it in the news. Still, most sexual harassment situations – 71 percent in 2015 – are not reported. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue affecting employee morale and job performance as well as the health and safety of those involved. It can even lead to lawsuits.
What is Sexual Harassment?
According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently persistent or offensive to unreasonably interfere with an employee’s job performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
As defined by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Guidelines, sexual harassment includes:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
- Sexual conduct made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment
- Situations where submission to or rejection of sexual conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions
- Sexual conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance
- Sexual conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment
Anyone can be sexually harassed – employees and customers, women and men.
I Feel That I’ve Been Sexually Harassed. What Should I Do?
Cases of sexual harassment in the workplace sometimes go unreported due to fear or shame. The victim may be experiencing harassment by someone in a supervisory position or may be worried that no one will believe their claims.
There are steps a victim can take if they are being harassed:
- First, say something directly to the harasser. This may be an intimidating task, but can be very effective as it immediately addresses the issue.
- If speaking directly to a harasser is too intimidating, consider the option of sending a direct message via email or another communication channel that is a comfortable platform for the victim.
- Another option is to gather information and request support from a coworker, supervisor, human resources team member or anyone else the victim feels comfortable speaking with. There is power in numbers and the more support that a victim has, the better they will feel about speaking up to report and resolve the issue.
- Victims of sexual harassment should try to keep a record of events to support their case.
- Always report uncomfortable and inappropriate situations to management or other trusted authorities.
What Can an Employer Do to Prevent Sexual Harassment?
An employer has a responsibility to maintain a safe workplace. Many companies are committed to preventing sexual harassment, and have policies in place to help victims feel more comfortable coming forward about these situations. Consider these tips:
- Make sure your sexual harassment policy is clear and concise.
- Conduct sexual harassment training for all staff. This may uncover harassment situations. An open dialogue gives victims an opportunity to discuss what they have been experiencing.
- Have more than one person in an organization available for confidential discussions about misconduct. This gives a victim options based on who they feel most comfortable.
- Take all complaints seriously. Investigate all claims to resolve issues.
- If you see something, say something. Encourage a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable reporting inappropriate situations. Speaking up could be a critical step to helping someone else.
Sexual harassment situations in the workplace lead to poor employee morale, low productivity and lawsuits. Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) is designed to protect your business from sexual harassment and other employee-related claims. Seventy-five percent of litigation against companies today involves employment disputes. And 40 percent of all EPLI claims are filed against small business. Be prepared.
EPLI Resources for Your Business
At Society, we believe that our employees make the biggest difference and we encourage direct, clear communication and action at all levels. To learn more about career opportunities at Society Insurance, click here.