A recent survey conducted by an international insurance provider identified sexual harassment as the most prevalent type of misconduct in the workplace. The findings of the survey are no surprise to people in the employment law field. Employers have long tolerated this form of abuse. Many still maintain written or unwritten policies that contribute to a workplace culture rife with hostility and harassment, much of it based on gender or sex.
The numbers are in
According to the survey, 35 percent of workers have experienced workplace harassment in some form. Of that 35 percent, half said that the harassment was sex or gender based. That means one out of every six employees has been the victim of gender-based or sexual harassment. The workers were surveyed in June 2018, and all of them were full-time employees.
Reporting incidents of harassment
Younger workers are more likely to report experiencing or witnessing harassment than their older counterparts. Still, an alarmingly high percentage of these incidents go unreported. The survey found that 40 percent of respondents did not tell management, HR or the police about what they’d seen. Most of those who did not report said that it was the fear of a hostile work environment that stopped them from speaking up.
An uncertain response
The law is pretty clear about the fact that reports of harassment should not lead to victims being punished by their employers. Sadly, it is not at all clear that employers are aware of this. The victims of harassment who did come forward to report it were often frustrated by the response. Among all respondents, 37 percent felt that the incident was not handled properly by the employer. Among the women who reported harassment, 49 percent felt the matter was mishandled.
Putting a stop to workplace harassment
To truly change the culture of harassment, a few things must be true. Victims and bystanders must feel comfortable reporting what they experience or witness. No one should be intimidated into silence. It must also be true that employees have reasonable confidence that their reports will be taken seriously and lead to some sort of acceptable follow-up. Finally, when harassment does occur, the perpetrators must be dealt with in a manner that strongly discourages others from engaging in similar behavior. Only then will workers who experience this conduct have access to justice.