Seven in 10 human resource professionals said believe sexual harassment complaints at their workplaces will likely be “higher” or “much higher” in 2018 compared to previous years.
An HR Certification Institute poll of more than 200 HR business leaders at U.S. organizations found that high-profile sexual harassment allegations in the news have caused businesses to step their risk mitigation:
- 79 percent of HR professionals said that sexual harassment prevention training will be considered a “high priority” or “essential” moving forward, up from 40 percent prior to the 2017 news coverage.
- 84 percent of HR professionals said that how the company handles sexual harassment complaints will be considered a “high priority” or “essential” moving forward, up from 65 percent.
“Recent allegations and the #MeToo movement have raised awareness and, more importantly, triggered action to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace,” said HRCI CEO Amy Dufrane, Ed.D., SPHR, CAE. “Greater awareness is likely to mean and increase in the number of reported cases over the short term. Long term, organizations are placing more emphasis on prevention and, hopefully, the eradication of sexual harassment from the workplace.”
Both reported and unreported acts of sexual harassment remain common, based on the HRCI poll: 63 percent of HR professionals said that acts of sexual harassment “occasionally” or “sometimes” occur in their workplaces and 30 percent said that such acts “frequently” occur. Only seven percent said that such acts “almost never” or “never” occur.
Most often, sexual harassment complaints are of the hostile work environment type, according to 60 percent of HR professionals. A hostile work environment, as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is an environment in which an individual or individuals are subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. Six percent said the quid pro quo variety of sexual harassment, when a supervisor or manager asks for sexual favors in return for some type of favorable employment action, is more likely; 32 percent said that either type of sexual harassment is most likely.
Nearly all HR professionals — 96 percent — said that sexual harassment grievances are “very difficult” or “difficult” to handle.
HR departments can be caught in the middle of “he said, she said” scenarios when investigating charges. At the same time, according to the managers, many acts of sexual harassment go unreported, putting HR and an organization in a precarious “should have known” position and requiring the investigation of not only charges, but even even rumors and gossip.
HR managers say that alleged victims often request confidentiality but confidentiality cannot always be promised during the investigation of a complaint. Also, employers must ensure that employees who make complaints are protected from retaliation.
“The complaint process should describe multiple avenues for reporting harassment and provide assurances of confidentiality to the extent it is possible,” said Sandra M. Reed, SPHR, the author of “A Guide to the Human Resource Body of Knowledge,” published by HRCI. “Investigations of allegations should be prompt and impartial and, if the investigation finds that harassment did indeed occur, the policy should provide — and the employer must take –immediate corrective action.”