The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) recently completed a two-year study on sexual harassment. Although its focus was primarily on the influence of sexual harassment in academia, and its impact on the advancement of women’s careers in the scientific, technical and medical workforces, NASEM’s findings are relevant to many other types of workforces as well.
NASEM gives several recommendations to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace, including one tool that employers are not likely to implement, due to its legal and public interest ramifications.
According to NASEM, the climate survey is promising in terms of its ability to reduce sexual harassment. Implementing the climate survey tool would require employers to regularly survey employees about what types of inappropriate behavior they have witnessed at work. By gaining a clear understanding of the existing climate, and routinely following up with workers, employers can track the effectiveness of their efforts to reduce sexual harassment over time.
Climate surveys would alert employers to existing harassment problems, or ones that could potentially arise in the future. Because most victims of sexual harassment do not report it, reliance upon formal complaints is not sufficient to determine the extent of harassment present in an organization. Climate surveys would also provide employers with valuable information regarding the types of harassment occurring in their organizations, even if there have been no formal complaints filed.
In light of the recent “MeToo” movement, many companies are eager to reduce workplace sexual harassment. However, although traditional training programs have proven to be largely ineffective, the climate survey may not be the solution they are looking for.
While it may be effective in terms of reducing workplace sexual harassment, many employers are deterred from utilizing climate surveys because of the potentially damaging public relations and legal implications.
Climate surveys that indicate high levels of harassment may prove harmful to an organization’s reputation if they are publicized. Therefore, many organizations will be hesitant to utilize the tool. Organizations could also open themselves up to liability if they are aware of existing sexual harassment issues, but do not stop them.
Employers must exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct sexual harassment in the workplace. If their training methods are not effective, as indicated by client surveys, they may be held legally liable for any persisting harassing behavior.
Employees are protected from workplace sexual harassment by both federal and state laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for the enforcement of federal laws pertaining to workplace harassment. They have the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers with more than 15 employees.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) is responsible for enforcing state civil rights laws and applies to employers with four or more employees.
Employers may be held liable for all forms of sexual harassment under federal and state law. It is therefore important to seek qualified legal assistance in both the prevention and investigation of workplace sexual harassment.
For more information about how to reduce sexual harassment in your workplace, or for assistance with your sexual harassment claim, contact an experienced employment attorney at MacMain Leinhauser. Call us at 484-318-7106 or submit an online inquiry form.