HR Managers Believe Sexual Harassment Complaints Will Increase

Apr 09, 2018
| David Pearson
HR Managers Believe Workplace Harassment Claims Will Increase

Perhaps the most prominent issue facing employers both large and small is workplace and sexual harassment. All employers need to make preventing harassment of all kinds in the workplace a top priority.

To achieve this, employers have taken steps to help prevent harassment grievances from occurring. These preventative steps include creating new policies and procedures, updating existing policies, and seeking outside assistance from HR and compliance experts.

A new poll conducted by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) shows that, despite company efforts, HR managers predict more sexual harassment complaints in 2018 than in previous years.

HR Professionals Say that Sexual Harassment Complaints at their Workplaces Will Be Higher in 2018

The HR Certification Institute survey, which had more than 200 HR business leader participants, asked questions that were specific to workplace sexual harassment in 2018.

One significant result was that 70% of participants said sexual harassment complaints at their workplaces will likely be “higher” or “much higher” in 2018, as compared to previous years.

Another important finding from the poll was that 79% of survey participants said that prevention training will be a “high priority” or “essential” in 2018. This number was at 40% prior to the 2017 elevated news coverage of sexual harassment allegations.

Also, 84% of HR professionals said that how their company handles complaints of sexual harassment will be “high priority” or “essential” this year; up from 65% last year.

Why are These Numbers Increasing Dramatically?

HRCI CEO Amy Dufrane, Ed.D., SPHR, CAE says that “recent allegations and the #MeToo movement have raised awareness and, more importantly, triggered action to stomp out sexual harassment in the workplace.”

“Greater awareness is likely to mean an 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. Everyone, including employers and coworkers who witness unwanted behaviors, must step up to the challenge."

Which Types of Sexual Harassment are Most Common?

In addition to the above results, the poll also asked HR professionals which types of sexual and workplace harassment are most likely to occur.

Results showed that 60% said that hostile work environment complaints – where an individual or individuals are subjected to unwelcomed verbal, physical, abusive, or intimidating behavior – are the most likely grievance.

Another 6% of HR professionals said that the quid pro quo type of harassment is most likely to occur. This is when a manager or supervisor asks for sexual favors in return for a favorable employment action.

Additionally, 32% of those surveyed said that either type, hostile working environment or quid pro quo, is most likely.

Sexual Harassment Grievances are a Challenge for Employers

A near unanimous result from the HRCI poll involved handling of sexual harassment grievances. It showed that 96% of HR professionals said sexual harassment grievances are “very difficult” or “difficult” to handle.

Therefore, establishing workplace harassment policies and procedures are critical for businesses today. They can help to guide a company’s actions if a grievance occurs and helps to assure that each investigation is handled quickly and thoroughly.

Additionally, the EEOC recently released 5 key principles to preventing workplace harassment. Implementing these are a great starting point for all employers to follow to help prevent harassment in their workplaces.

Sandra Reed, SPHR, and the author of A Guide to the Human Resource Body of Knowledge, says, “the complaint process should describe multiple avenues for reporting harassment and provide assurances of discretion, even though confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.”

“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."

Clear Policies and Procedures, and Experienced HR Professionals Can Help Prevent Workplace Harassment

Sexual harassment or workplace harassment grievances can cause serious issues for an employer. Litigation stemming from workplace harassment lawsuits and the negative brand image this can create can be disastrous for a business.

This type of behavior also creates an uncomfortable and dangerous working environment for employees, which is something that all employers need to be proactive in preventing.

For small employers, who may lack HR experts in-house, exploring strategic partnerships can help provide access to HR, risk management, and compliance professionals who all have years of experience.

They can help to craft workplace harassment policies and procedures, as well as training materials, which will help to significantly reduce the likelihood of grievances occurring, and assist should a complaint happen.

By working with HR and compliance experts, and taking a proactive approach to workplace and sexual harassment prevention, employers can make their workplace a safer environment for everyone.

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