Employers must be ever-vigilant in providing a safe workplace for all employees. That responsibility includes a workplace harassment policy. Harassment is unlawful and can get an employer in trouble if it goes unmonitored or unpunished.
What is Workplace Harassment?
- It’s an unlawful form of discrimination, based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- It’s defined as unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or retaliation that results in a hostile work environment or a change in an employee’s status or benefits.
- It can affect anyone.
- Is not limited to male on female sexual harassment.
Harassment can range from offensive language or remarks to comments about a fellow employee’s body, skin color, or religion, to inappropriate touching, jokes, gestures, or even emails.
Increase in Sexual Harassment Claims by Men
A growing number of sexual harassment complaints have come from men since the start of the recession, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC). Litigation, including harassment cases, tends to increase during economic downturn, when jobs are harder to find. In the past, men might have responded to sexual harassment by leaving a hostile workplace for another job—but now, when they’re not easily finding other employment, a harassment suit is more likely to be filed.
Harder-hit states for unemployment, like Michigan and California, saw bigger increases in the percentage of sexual harassment claims by men: Michigan’s cases rose 10% from 2007 to 2009, and California’s cases rose 5%.
While the stigma around claiming sexual harassment is huge for both genders, it is even more so for men, say the experts. Men can be seen as weak or unmanly when claiming sexual harassment, so the numbers of reported incidents are most likely lower than what actually occurs.
Employers are often in the dark about harassment; often employees are laid off for economic reasons, and file claims months or years later. Developing and enforcing a strict no-harassment policy is vital. And remember to broaden your definitions to include same-sex harassment. Many employees are more sensitive to what they say around the opposite gender, but might think that sexual jokes and banter among their own gender is okay—but it’s not.
As unemployment continues to hover around 10%, employers could face rising harassment claims—so now is the best time to review your company’s policy and tighten it up as needed. Communicate to and train employees on the policy. Strict workplace harassment policy enforcement is the best way to mitigate risk to your business.