Looking back on 2016, I was saddened by the onslaught of news stories covering lawsuits and settlements related to sexual harassment and discrimination. Of course there were the big suits that received most of the media attention, Fox News, Chipotle Grill, Mc Donald’s Corp., etc. But it seemed that the small to mid-sized companies were seeing an abundance of claims as well. In July, USA Today released a report that 1 in 4 women have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace at least once. And the Huffington Post stated that the number is actually 1 in 3 women, but let’s not forget the men. According to the EEOC, over 20% of the harassment claims filed include male victims. Sadly, just last week, CNN released an article titled, “The year in harassment: 2016 sunk lower than rock bottom”, based primarily on the increase of online harassment and cyber bullying. This is a very troubling trend and a clear sign we need to increase harassment prevention measures.
What I find interesting is the high percentage of employers that I talk to who state that their company has never had any type of complaint or any need to conduct a workplace investigation into the possibility of harassment or discrimination. Although this may be the case for tightly held small companies and family run businesses that have few employees, many of these are companies that have been in business 10 – 30 years, with 100 to 1000 employees. My conclusion, many companies are still burying their collective heads in the sand as to what goes on in their workplace and are avoiding conducting investigations in the hopes that a claim will not arise. Really? No improper jokes, pictures, or comments? No aggressive managers or disgruntled employees causing arguments or making others uncomfortable with the statements they make? No employees feeling overlooked for promotions or pay scales based on their gender, race or religious affiliations? No vendors making comments on how an employee dresses, using homophobic slurs or constantly asking out employees? Some companies are lucky. Most are not.
The majority of the companies I consult with and the HR professionals I talk with have their policies and harassment and discrimination training in place, but one important element is missing. If your company is not conducting an investigation every time they become aware harassment or discrimination may be taking place, they are missing out on an important prevention method. Statistics show that employers who conduct workplace investigations as a standard business process, see a steady reduction in the number of incidents and claims based on the employees knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions. It creates a culture where employees pause before they speak or act to ensure they are not out of line. And with the EEOC Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2017-2021 focusing on preventing systemic harassment, it’s time to get proactive.
If you have questions or concerns regarding conducting workplace investigations, getting executive buy- in, or how to change your process to a standard business function.