Blog Post

Sexual harassment

The corporate response to sexual harassment complaints is outdated, ineffective, and broken. Here are ways to fix it.

The process for handling sexual harassment complaints is broken.

  • According to published reports and data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 95% of employees say sexual harassment goes unpunished.
  • 40% of female employees experience unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion at work.
  • 60% of female employees report sexual harassment when the definition is broadened to include sexually crude conduct or sexist comments.
  • 16-18% of male employees report sexual harassment.
  • 83% of sexual harassment targets feel angry.
  • 64% of employees who are targets of sexual harassment report being intimidated.
  • 52% of victims are humiliated.
  • 2 out of 3 men do not think that repeated, unwanted invitations to drinks, dinner, and dates is not sexual harassment.
  • 75% of employees who spoke out about sexual harassment experienced some form of retaliation.
  • Only 1 in 5 men think that sexual harassment is a fireable offense.

Establish milestones for company response and action items. Companies need to show that they value a prompt response to sexual harassment as much as a business issue.

  • Establish a sexual harassment “Rapid Response Team” to serve as a resource for investigations. Develop subject matter expertise for the team.  Members can include HR, IT, Corporate Security, Auditing. If the employer operates in several states, establish a state by state Team or an regional team.
  • Set a timeline for each stage of the investigation process.
  • Update the employee along the way, even if it is just to say that the investigation is ongoing.
  • If the investigation takes longer than scheduled milestones, explain why that is to the employee. Don’t leave employees in the dark.

Renovate corporate policies on sexual harassment so companies can educate employees.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.

  • Don’t use ambiguous phrases like “unwanted touching.” Say: Employees must not touch another employee in private areas, including the chest, pelvis, buttocks. Say: Employees should keep their hands to themselves.
  • Make it clearer that repeated, unwanted requests for sex, hotel room visits, dinner, dates and drinks are sexual harassment.
  • Include “Bystander Training” similar to the “See Something, Say Something” campaign to educate those individuals who are present but not taking part in the harassment. Provide training to empower employees so that both men and women gain awareness skills, learn how to appropriately intervene and know where to get help.
  • Create an independent hotline for sexual harassment, separate and distinct from ethics hotlines.
  • HR should tabulate the number of sexual harassment complaints it receives each year, its ability to meet milestones for investigations, and results.
  • HR should set up an internal database so employees can see the company’s commitment to safe workplaces. Treat it like any other metric.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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