Even though 98% of employers in the United States have a sexual harassment policy in writing, it is still a pervasive problem in the workplace. For instance, there were nearly 7,000 sexual harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016. Clearly, the sexual harassment policies that employers currently have in place are not effective. But, why? According to a new study, it could have to do with how employees are interpreting the policies.
Researchers found that employees’ interpretations of sexual harassment policies do not always align with what is actually written. For example, the policies that were studied clearly stated that sexual harassment does not always involve a man and a woman. However, employees that read the policies still interpreted them to mean that sexual harassment was any unwelcome conduct directed at a woman by a man.
Many employees also found the policies to be a threat towards men. These employees stated that a sensitive woman could misinterpret an innocent behavior and accuse a man of sexual harassment when that was never his intention. If this is how employees feel, it’s easy to see why sexual harassment is not taken seriously in many workplaces. If someone reports sexual harassment, he or she may be told that she’s being too sensitive and misinterpreting the harasser’s intention. In addition, males may feel uncomfortable reporting sexual harassment since most people are under the impression that victims can only be female.
What Employers Should Do
Employers must put an end to this type of thinking in order to make their policies more effective. Researchers suggest that employers start by changing the language used within the policies. For example, changing “perpetrator” to “predator” makes a powerful statement and shows employees that the victim is not the bad guy in this situation.
Another way to improve policies is to require bystander intervention, which means anyone that witnesses harassment would be required to report it or stop it. This takes some of the pressure off of the victim, who may be afraid to report harassment because she fears backlash. Requiring that everyone take a stand against sexual harassment will also create a more unified and respectful workplace where this type of behavior is not tolerated. With these minor changes, employers can create more effective policies that will protect their employees from sexual harassment.
The attorneys at Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C. aggressively fight for justice for sexual harassment victims. If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, let an attorney from our firm protect your rights. Call Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C. at 918-582-2500 or toll free at (800) 722-8880. You can also contact us online for a free consultation with an experienced attorney.