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Workplace Sexual Harassment Must be Combated both Before and After it Occurs

Workplace Sexual Harassment Must be Combated both Before and After it Occurs

A recent New York Times expose on Sexual Harassment has confirmed what the attorneys at Lebau & Neuworth have consistently experienced throughout their extended careers: Women regularly fail to report Sexual Harassment in the workplace because of fear of retaliation.

According to the April 10, 2017, NYT article, “social science research” shows that “employers, judges and juries often use women’s failure to report harassment as evidence that it was not a problem or that plaintiffs had other motives.” However, “Mostly they fear retaliation, and with good reason, research shows,” the Times reported.

In fact, only a quarter to a third of people who have been harassed at work report it to a supervisor or union representative, and 2 percent to 13 percent file a formal complaint, according to a meta­analysis of studies by Lilia Cortina of the University of Michigan and Jennifer Berdahl of the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business.

The Times goes on to summarize: “Some women who experience harassment confront the perpetrator or confide in friends or family, the meta­analysis found. But the most common response is to avoid the person, play down what happened or ignore the behavior.”

“Some don’t report a problem because they don’t think their experience qualifies as illegal harassment. An analysis of 55 representative surveys found that about 25 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment, but when they are asked about specific behaviors, like inappropriate touching or pressure for sexual favors, the share roughly doubles.”

Lebau and Neuworth staff find it extremely concerning that, as the Times report verifies, “Many victims, who are most often women, fear they will face disbelief, inaction, blame or societal and professional retaliation.” Frighteningly, as the Times points out, those fears are “grounded in reality,” researchers have concluded – in one study of public-sector employees, two­thirds of workers who had complained about mistreatment described some form of retaliation in a follow­up survey.

Just as disturbing to Lebau and Neuworth, the Times also notes: “Paradoxically, official harassment policies and grievance procedures often end up creating obstacles to women’s ability to assert their rights,” according to research by Anna­Maria Marshall, a sociologist at the University of Illinois.

“The way employers deal with it is to prepare to show a court or jury that they did everything they could, rather than to protect women in the workplace,” Ms. Marshall stated.

What’s more, “There are many ways that company cultures discourage people who are harassed from reporting it,” according to the Times. “Other times the human resources department has no interest in helping the employee — or there is no such department at all.”

Lebau and Neuworth has long been committed to combatting Sexual Harassment and providing justice to those who have been victims of Sexual Harassment in the workplace. To that end, we fully concur with the report by the Times, in which it states: “The best way to avoid sexual harassment and ensure that it’s reported when it happens is to bake it into company culture, from the top leaders on down, executives and researchers say.”

A June 2016 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also provided some ideas to enable change the culture within the workplace to help combat Sexual Harassment:

  • Reward managers when complaints of harassment increase in their department, because it means they’re creating an environment where people are comfortable reporting.
  • Authorize dozens of employees throughout the organization to receive complaints, so that people can report to someone they’re comfortable with.
  • Hire an ombudsman.
  • Promote more women to positions of power.
  • Train people not in what not to do, but in how to be civil to colleagues, and how to speak up as a bystander — and have senior leaders attend the training sessions.
  • Put in proportional consequences, so that low­grade instances can be handled with conversations instead of firings or legal action.

The staff at Lebau and Neuworth is well-prepared and readily available to help you combat Sexual Harassment in your workplace, whether you feel you are already a victim or if there needs to be a culture adjustment in the office. For more information and for our assistance, contact Lebau and Neuworth at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.

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