An astonishing 56% of employees reported having experienced or witnessed some form of harassment at work. However, 40% of events go unreported for fear of retaliation or lack of confidence that any action will be taken (TLNT).
Harassment is extremely disruptive - creating tension, reducing productivity, and potentially leading to legal ramifications. As an employer, what are you doing to foster a safe, healthy work environment? Do employees know how to handle harassment and feel comfortable escalating? Answering no could mean you're subject to a bad community reputation, disgruntled employees or legal woes - all of which hinder recruitment and hiring, employee morale and overall business performance.
It's important to understand that harassment comes in many forms. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment can include “offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.”
Below, I've outlined three buckets for which most types of harassment fall.
Digital harassment is one the most common forms of harassment because of it's ease and accessibility. Commonly called cyberbullying, digital harassment may include threats or demeaning comments on social media, creating fake personas to bully someone online, creating content to mock or belittle someone, or making false allegations online (Mind Squad HR).
Can you think of a time when your face isn't lit up by the white glow of a screen? We are constantly flooded with digital content, ranging in topics from A to Z. Regardless of what floods your feed, digital harassment doesn't discriminate - it can show up anywhere to anyone. And though not always the case, offenders are often able to conceal their identities completely - resulting in zero accountability or consequence. No face. No name. No worries.
Physical harassment can include everything from "...simple, unwanted gestures, like touching an employee’s clothing, hair, face or skin, and more severe gestures, like physical assault, threats of violence and damage to personal property" (Business News Daily). As with most forms of harassment, these actions can be difficult to recognize and are often brushed off as not serious. Understanding what harassment looks like, sounds like, or feels like is key to taking the necessary action that should follow.
Sexual harassment falls into this bucket and includes unwanted sexual advances, such as inappropriate touching, sexual jokes, sharing pornography, sending sexual messages, or requiring sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or job security. Although defining sexual harassment may seem straightforward, it is not always so obvious (Business News Daily). It is estimated that 75% of workplace sexual harassment instances go unreported (Impactly).
Verbal harassment is defined as ..."any conscious and repeated attempt to humiliate, demean, insult, or criticize someone with words" (Employment and Consumer Law Group). It can come from anyone in the workplace, from co-workers to senior leaders.
Being acutely aware of what this looks like in practice is critical to the safety and well-being of your employees. Often, degrees of verbal harassment are brushed aside due to a lack of egregiousness. For example, the offender might say "I was just kidding" or "I didn't mean it." However, even more general forms of verbal harassment have severe negative emotional implications on employees that lead to much larger issues, including organizational dysfunction.
Still not clear on what harassment looks like? Check out these real workplace harassment lawsuits.
There can be a lot of gray area when dealing with harassment. Regardless, any instances of harassment or potential harassment should never be downplayed. All reports of harassment should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. Note that both employers and employees have a responsibility to be educated in this space. However, as an employer, it is your obligation to provide the opportunities to do so.
So, how do you protect your people from harassment? While you cannot prevent harassment completely, you can create a safe, healthy work environment where employees:
1. are educated about what harassment is
2. know what action to take if they are harassed or witness harassment and
3. feel safe escalating and have confidence in the escalation process
YOU set the tone for the environment, atmosphere and culture of your company.
HTI's Harassment Awareness Training Programs are designed to increase awareness and understanding, prevent harassment, and teach what actions to take when any form of harassment arises.
Program objectives include:
- Defining harassment
- Following legal guidelines
- Understanding appropriate behavior
- Responding to workplace harassment
- Creating a harassment-free environment
- Investigating harassment instances
Potential program components:
- 1.5-hour workshop
- 30-minute extended leadership session
- Interactive classroom content
Our harassment training is completely customizable. Contact us to learn more and to get a program set up for you and your team.
I'd like to speak with someone about these programs.