April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and, as history tells us, sexual assault and harassment can happen virtually anywhere — even in the workplace. In circumstances of workplace sexual assault or harassment, a volatile environment is created for both employees and employers, oftentimes resulting in the loss of good workers and a precarious legal situation for the employer.
The U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women defines sexual assault as “any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks the capacity to consent”. Additionally, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) states that “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” (U.S. EEOC 2018a). (source)
For the employee experiencing unwanted advances of this nature, the outcome can include increased absenteeism, a hostile work environment, feelings of victimization, and a reluctance to engage with fellow employees. Indeed, an estimated 75% of employees who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never report the incidents to their employers. (source)
For employers, unchecked sexual harassment can not only result in the loss of good employees, but it can also be costly in financial terms. The EEOC reports that $68.2 million was paid out by employers for sexual harassment violations in 2019 alone —nearly double the total paid out in 2014 ($35 million). (source)
No matter the industry, employers bear responsibility for protecting their employees, creating a safe working environment, and addressing issues in the workplace swiftly and decisively. These concerns are not confined to large workspaces. Lone workers in healthcare can oftentimes experience unknowns when behind closed doors, and even remote workers can find themselves on the receiving end of ‘digital’ harassment. As leaders in the workforce, it’s crucial to be aware of these potential problems and deal with them quickly.
Use Regroup’s quick checklist to ensure you’re taking the appropriate steps.
Enact Policies that Protect Employees
Consulting with legal and human resource professionals for the best approach to establishing firm policies against sexual harassment in the workplace is the first step in creating a safer environment and mitigating legal exposure to suits and EEOC violations. Policies should be in keeping with current EEOC standards and requirements – which are subject to change from year to year. And, new and long-standing employees alike should be educated on employer expectations as well as the EEOC standards that govern the workplace.
Regroup Mass Notification can easily be used for ongoing employee training, notification of policy changes, and scheduling of employee training sessions.
Provide Reporting that Mitigates Retaliation
A staggering number of employees who experience sexual harassment (or other forms of workplace violence) never file a complaint with their employer. Experts speculate the fear of retaliation is the most common reason for their silence. It is, therefore, important for employers to ensure a confidential and safe way for employees to report violations.
Using Regroup’s TipSafe allows anonymous reporting from the employee or a third party who witnesses incidents of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. This can help keep reporting confidential and allow human resources and management to take the necessary next steps in a more discrete manner.
Work Towards Resolving Incidents That Can be Resolved
As we previously discussed, reducing conflicts in the workplace can be accomplished —in some cases. This requires buy-in from all parties, but particularly from human resources or management. As the guides of the conflict-resolution process, it’s important that management understands the value of anticipating potential problems before they become dangerous situations.
This requires allowing an open channel of communication from employees to their managers or the human resources department. In some cases, a proactive communication approach from human resources can help put a stop to workplace conflicts before they become more serious situations or violations.
Involve Leadership to Set the Tone
Leading by a good example is always an excellent idea. This requires that upper management clearly understand all policies involving sexual harassment, assault, and workplace violence. Upper management must also be held accountable for their workplace behavior and should require the same standards for their teams. Ignoring problems will only serve to worsen them. Expectations should be clearly communicated and potential violations reported and acted upon swiftly.
Review, Renew and Retrain
From time to time, companies should review their policies on sexual harassment, assault and workplace violence. To ensure the company remains in compliance with standards set forth by the EEOC, an annual policy review is essential.
Further, it’s important that all employees understand changes or updates to company policies. For that reason, ongoing training can be a necessity.
Using Regroup for notifications of training is one reliable and simple way to accomplish the task of keeping employees in the loop. Regroup makes delivery predictable and allows human resource managers to see who has received notice and to visualize schedules more readily.
Your Next Steps
Understanding that sexual harassment and assault in the workplace is a dangerous situation that can potentially affect anyone, it’s vital for all companies to hedge the risk of these unwanted circumstances.
Having a clearly communicated set of policies is step one in combating inappropriate or dangerous behaviors. Establishing actionable steps to punish offenders and keeping the lines of communication open for victims is also crucial to maintain a safe workplace for all.
Regroup and its partner, Lake Forest Group, have republished its free webinar on Mitigating Workplace Violence that can help you navigate your requirements as an employer and institute best practices for maintaining a safe workplace. You can view it, in its entirety, here.
Ready to see more? You can schedule a no-obligation demo of Regroup’s powerful notification system here.