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Sexual Harassment Claims Are Up One Year After #MeToo

It’s been a year since the #metoo movement started. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claims of sexual harassment are up. For most, this is not surprising. And the EEOC is currently working to update its guidance on sexual harassment for the first time in 20 years. In the meantime, what can you do as an employer to protect your business or ministry? This post discusses the data provided by the EEOC and gives recommendations on how employers can protect their organizations and do their best to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

EEOC Data on Sexual Harassment Claims

Last month, the EEOC released preliminary data on its sexual harassment claims for fiscal year 2018. Not surprisingly, claims were up more than 12% from last year: the first time in the last ten years for that number to go up from the previous year. The number of suits filed by the EEOC related to sexual harassment was up by 50%. Monetary awards for victims of sexual harassment rose to $70 million, which is a 22% increase over what was recovered last year. The EEOC also reports that successful mediation proceedings increased by 43%. Perhaps most dramatically, traffic to the EEOC’s sexual harassment web page went up more than 100%.

Recommendations for Business Owners

While EEOC updates its guidance on sexual harassment, it’s a good idea for business owners to review and possibly update their own policies and practices on sexual harassment. 

1. Make sure your company sexual harassment policy is clearly written and defined.

Review your company sexual harassment policy to make sure the language is easy to understand. Clearly define sexual harassment and provide examples of it in the workplace. Be explicit about where this applies—both in and out of the office—and for all forms of communication. Business policies should encourage immediate reporting of possible sexual harassment and reassure employees that there will be no retaliation for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. 

2. Be intentional and proactive about creating a sexual harassment-free workplace.

Be clear with your staff that the company expects courteous, respectful, and empathetic behavior in the workplace. Encourage bystander intervention techniques. For example, if an employee hears another employee being mistreated by a colleague or superior, train staff to step in and say something. Consider offering incentives to employees for following workplace policies and modeling exceptional adherence to sexual harassment policies. For example, consider giving a higher performance score on employee evaluations, bonuses, or promotions based on an employee’s compliance with the company sexual harassment policy or training on the topic. 

3. Educate employees on sexual harassment.

Provide annual training to all new and current employees on sexual harassment. Provide additional training to managers on how to handle a complaint of sexual harassment, because companies often get in more trouble handling a complaint wrong than related to any underlying problem. (Practice tip: for training for employees or managers, see the Sexual Harassment Training at TeliosTeaches.com.) Make all employees know and understand the sexual harassment policy and how to file a sexual harassment complaint, if one is needed. 

4. Enforce your sexual harassment policy

If you receive a complaint, make sure it is taken seriously, addressed right away, and investigated thoroughly. Make sure to follow best practices related to internal investigations. (Practice tip: if the allegation is serious or against a high-level employees, consider hiring legal counsel to conduct the investigation.) Any complaining witness should be taken seriously and given a fair hearing. Any person accused should be given a fair chance to defend himself or herself. All evidence should be evaluated carefully in a search for the truth.

Should the allegation be substantiated, follow through on the consequences according to the policy. Follow-through is especially important, because it keeps the workplace a safe place for all employees and protects the business from legal liability. 

Conclusion

One year after the #metoo movement started, there is no doubt it’s made a huge impact in our culture. Now, more than ever, employers must be intentional and take every precaution to create a safe—sexual harassment-free—workplace for their employees. Stay posted for more on the new EEOC guidance when it comes out.

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Featured Image: "Girl Power" by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash.
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