Identifying Sexual Harassment Complaint Causes to Improve Workplace Safety

By Chris Huber, Director of Business Development

and Casey Bean, Digital Marketing Coordinator

Human Resources professional listening to sexual harassment complaint concerns of a female employee

In recent years, many people have bravely came forward as victims of workplace sexual harassment. Several popular figures have since been removed from positions of power because of they’ve abused their power through unlawful behavior. This abuse of power can happen at organizations of all sizes and is one of many bases for a sexual harassment complaint. By understanding the underlying causes of sexual harassment and staying vigilant, you can create a safer work environment for your colleagues.

Top 5 Causes of Sexual Harassment Complaints

1. Power Differential

The top cause of sexual harassment complaints stems from the power dynamics at work. Many cases involve senior-level officers abusing their power to sexually harass and intimidate others. Victims are often coerced into sexual acts because they are offered professional favors or fear to lose their job if they refuse their superiors. Creating a culture of equality will help eliminate the fear of retaliation.

2. A Culture that Implies Acceptance

In a relaxed work environment, there’s often a wink-wink, nod-nodoffice culture that’s  accepting of an employee’s quirky yet inappropriate behavior. Although some people may be comfortable in that environment, saying things like “Oh that’s just how he is,” others may be offended and feel uncomfortable which leads to sexual harassment complaints. All employees need to be held accountable for following the established code of conduct.

3. Not Understanding Harassment

Some employees don’t fully comprehend what counts as sexual harassment at their office. They might not realize that greeting a colleague with a kiss on the cheek or complimenting their appearance is grounds for a sexual harassment complaint. On the other hand, complaints also stem from employees who think they’re being harassed but technically are not according to company policies. By clearly defining sexual harassment, organizations can avoid these sticky situations.

4. Poorly Managed Policies and Procedures

Employee handbooks contain legal jargon in order to remain compliant with the law, which can be hard for employees to fully understand. They also tend to be reviewed only once, during new hire orientation. When policies and procedures aren’t expressed clearly and spoken about frequently, the rules are more likely to be broken. Organizations need to have policies in place that explain proper behavior, have zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior, and contain a written code of conduct. Continually reinforcing company policies and educating employees will prevent a hostile work environment.

5. Excessive Stress

When under a lot of stress, an employee is likely to express their emotions towards others. Verbal abuse, physical altercations, and other stress-releasing actions create harassment situations in the heat of the moment. By creating a stress-free work environment and teaching employees how to cope with stress, employees will be less likely to act out against their colleagues irrationally.

Sexual harassment can be an awkward topic to discuss in the workplace. Most offices only conduct sexual harassment training once a year and it tends to be dull and forgettable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By creating a culture of accountability and awareness in your office through improved sexual harassment training, complaints will occur less frequently. Consider implementing policy changes and preventative actions that will help with managing sexual harassment risk. 

As a reaction to the sexual harassment crisis in the US, social movements like the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are pushing for changes to federal laws and regulations. Resources from our webinar, The 5 Hidden Risks of #MeToo, are available to help you navigate through the changing employment practices legal environment. 

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