5 steps to preventing workplace harassment and misconduct

Many employees are unaware of what constitutes workplace harassment and how to report it

Young, diverse professionals taking a stand against workplace harassment

In the late 1980s, the Supreme Court interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to incorporate sexual harassment in the workplace as discrimination based on “sex”. Yet, to avert the dismissal of a, “he said, she said” situation, the #Metoo movement, which swept through the country in 2017, renewed attention on workplace sexual harassment among both women and men alike. For instance, #MeToo was shared 23 million times in 85 different countries after actress Alyssa Milano used Twitter to disclose her own workplace harassment.

However, many employees are unaware of what constitutes workplace harassment and how to report it. To illustrate, many women are unwilling to come forward with any allegations, as the process of disclosing details of a traumatic event is unpleasant, upsetting, and overall challenging. But by doing so, one exposes themselves to examination in a system that values male bodies. 

In a recent 2023 report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Female victims say they were sexually harassed more often by men (97%) than women (13%) in the following industries: 

  • Technology and telecommunications: 25% 
  • Health care and social assistance: 21% 
  • Media: 19%
  • Consulting and management: 16%
  • Architecture, engineering, and aerospace: 16%
  • Legal service: 11% 

Meanwhile, workplace sexual harassment has historically been underreported, particularly by men. 43% of men have reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault. But, the number of males who experience workplace harassment and the proportion of those who report it are both unknown. Since the number of males who report being sexually harassed at work is likely much higher than the cases reported to the EEOC.

Male victims say they were sexually harassed more often by women (68%) than men (57%) in the following industries: 

  • Media: 22%
  • Consulting and management: 20% 
  • Architecture, engineering, aerospace: 17% 
  • Health care and social assistance: 14% 
  • Legal services: 11% 
  • Finance, banking, and insurance: 7% 

Types of workplace harassment

Quid pro quo is one of several legal categories for sexual misconduct. It’s a situation when a person in a position of authority demands sex in exchange for the security of their position, or they are acting aggressively and unethically exerting their control over the subordinate’s job.

A hostile work environment can be created by both someone in a position of power or by a coworker who has little control over another employee. This kind of ‘environment’ where working may be uncomfortable due to persistent behavior, like daily groping and inappropriate sexual remarks, can also be recognized as harassment. 

Retaliation against workers who report sexual harassment at work is another example of harassment. When an employee reports discrimination, they may experience negative consequences like reprimands, transfer to a less desirable area or job, unjustified negative ratings, denial of promotions or pay raises, demotions, and termination. In addition, these workers may experience additional forms of retaliation, like increased workplace harassment and shift reductions.

Everyone can engage in these actions, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or status within the company. In short, sexual harassment is a criminal type of sexism that includes a broad range of unacceptable behavior, from minor sexual jokes to assault and other sexual crimes. To outline,  the following examples are what could also represent sexual harassment: 

  • Unwelcome sexual advances.
  • Request for sexual favors.
  • Verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Including sexual remarks on a worker’s physique, complexion, or clothing. 
  • Whistling or catcalling and calling an adult a chick, stud, sugar, hunk, doll, babe, honey, or any other professional term of endearment.

Throughout the previous year, which saw a great deal of disruption in the world, the demand for greater awareness about workplace harassment has only grown. The World Health Organization notes that events like the global pandemic “exacerbate violence, heightening vulnerability and hazards.” Psychologists who research workplace harassment and advise small businesses on how to prevent it, emphasize that “sexual harassment is a pervasive problem with a devastating toll on employee well-being and performance.”

What can organizations do to prevent sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace?  

In 2020, the EEOC confirmed 6,587 claims of sexual harassment, a year in which many commercial facilities experienced much lower occupancy as employees were sent home to work. According to Laura Palumbo of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), who reiterates the need for small businesses to have a part in preventing sexual harassment and assaults, “We can stop the harassment and abuse before it happens by addressing the wider context in which it occurs.”  

In addition, the American Psychological Association makes the following suggestions for combating sexual harassment:

1. Provide thorough and interesting sexual harassment prevention training

A comprehensive approach will explain all types of sexual misconduct and harassment as well as what to do if you see or are the target of such behavior. Pre-training, training, and post-training elements should be included within a program for both individuals and groups. 

2. Carry It Out

Avoiding the one-and-done mindset trap is a crucial element of sexual harassment prevention training success. Assessments and annual refresher training should serve to reinforce the initial instruction.

3. Provide Manager-Specific Training

By doing this, small businesses highlight the reality that sexual harassment is a problem that leaders must be equipped to deal with while also educating managers on how to see the early indicators of workplace harassment and how to act swiftly and effectively to stop the issue from getting worse.

4. Turn Bystanders into Upstanders 

When employees see sexual harassment taking place against another employee, they are expected to speak up and perhaps submit their own complaints. Bystander intervention training can improve accountability. This kind of empowerment has been shown to be a crucial component of sexual harassment prevention success.

5. Build up your company culture

Company values create the groundwork for success in firms that prioritize a culture of respect by formally expressing dedication to a productive workplace. Together, managers and staff members must foster and uphold a climate of trust in which everyone’s physical and mental well-being comes first. Some fundamental characteristics of respectful organizational cultures include: 

    • Treat everyone with kindness, civility, and dignity: It is important to recognize the value that each employee offers to the workplace. Respectful behavior toward coworkers and other people is embodied by acting with integrity, accepting responsibility, and having each other’s backs.
    • In an effort to lessen the effects of bias and eradicate discrimination, work is done to guarantee that no individuals or groups of employees are preferred or disfavored over others.
    • Bullying and harassment prevention entails not just not tolerating objectionable language, behavior, and sexual harassment in particular but also actively addressing it through effective intervention and enforcement mechanisms.
    • Encouragement of diversity and inclusion: When employees and leaders come from a variety of generations, races, nationalities, cultures, faiths, sexual orientations, economic and educational levels, physical and mental capacities, and other traits, powerful organizations are created.
    • Insisting on communication that is transparent and open: It offers the basis for trust, courteous treatment, and fruitful relationships by reinforcing company values and behavior norms throughout the whole organization. Also, it creates a setting where staff members feel comfortable speaking up when they witness discrimination, harassment, bullying, or other improper behavior.
    • Dedication to morality and ethics: Respectful culture extends outside of the organization in all acts, interpersonal interactions, and business dealings. Customers, suppliers, potential workers, other external stakeholders, and the communities in which small businesses operate are all treated with respect and decency in addition to employees.

The AllVoices Team surveyed 822 Americans who work full-time about workplace harassment on July 13, 2021. To acquire the raw data, the survey was carried out online utilizing an organic sampling method called Random Device Engagement (RDE).

The following are the key conclusions from the survey on workplace harassment:

  • 44% have experienced harassment at work, whether that be personal harassment and or bullying, discriminatory harassment and bias, or online harassment and cyberbullying.
  • 38% still experienced harassment remotely, through email, video conferencing, chat apps, or by phone. Additionally, 24% believe harassment continues or gets worse through remote work channels.
  • 53% say their workplace immediately addresses harassment. However, 12% see no action from their workplace, and 14.7% aren’t aware of any action taken. Additionally, only 54% of respondents have had their issues fully resolved.
  • 34% have left a job because of unresolved harassment issues. 26% have remained at a workplace despite there being ongoing issues of harassment.
  • Only 50% have reported harassment. 18% said that even though they experienced or witnessed harassment, they did not report it. They didn’t report it for fear of retaliation, that nothing would be done about it, or that they wouldn’t be believed.
  • 85% are more likely to report harassment if they have an anonymous channel. Additionally, respondents believe that they and their coworkers would be more encouraged to report with an anonymous reporting tool or platform.
  • Only 72% believe their workplace wants harassment reported. 28% say their workplace does not encourage employees to raise issues of harassment.

Ultimately, small businesses have a special chance to lead the way in finding solutions to reduce workplace violence, bullying, sexual harassment, and other risks to people’s safety and wellbeing. Nonetheless, we can all live safer and more fulfilling lives by adopting firm principles, requiring effective training programs, and requiring respectful work conditions.