By Pauline Krutilla, MS, CEAP, Director, Aurora Employee Assistance Program
There’s been a significant increase in the number of employers interested in taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces. This follows a steady stream of sexual harassment allegations that have been lodged against celebrities, business leaders, media executives and politicians across the country. The national #MeToo movement has been a huge wake-up call for many employers, prompting them to take proactive steps to address this complex issue.
Typically, larger companies have in-house Human Resource professionals who can advise company leaders and hopefully provide adequate workplace training on the topic of sexual harassment. These organizations are more likely to have comprehensive sexual harassment prevention policies in place that are regularly communicated to all employees.
Unfortunately, not all companies are adequately prepared. In general, smaller employers are less likely to have written policies in place or to offer harassment training, thus leaving themselves more vulnerable to inappropriate conduct occurring in their workplaces.
Small business owners may be so busy running their companies they don’t spend time or resources on developing or communicating policies or on harassment training. Some companies view such investments as being “unnecessary expenses.” These organizations are assuming a big risk. In the long run it may end up costing them a tremendous amount of money in legal fees and expenses and in lost productivity
Making a business case for ending harassment — the bottom line
According to 2016 report issued by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) titled “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace,”1
about one-third of all EEOC charges filed in 2015 alleged “harassment” (rather than discrimination) and 45% of those charges alleged sexual
harassment. In that year alone, the EEOC recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment – and these direct costs represent only a portion of the true costs.
Experts agree that workplace harassment comes at a steep cost to those employees affected by it, as it affects both an employee’s performance (causing mental, physical and economic harm) and
a company’s bottom line. But in addition, workplace harassment can affect an entire workforce.
It’s true cost includes:
• Decreased productivity; increased presenteeism
• Increased turnover
• Reputational harm (consider how incidents travel at lightning speed on social media)
How can employers address the problem of sexual harassment and create a more productive and healthy workplace? The EEOC’s Task Force’s recommends taking a holistic approach:
- Adopting and maintaining a comprehensive anti-harassment policy;
- Ensuring that the policy is communicated frequently to all employees;
- Offer reporting procedures that include multiple points of contact, and multiple methods for reporting harassment;
- Being alert for signs of retaliation; and
- Imposing prompt and proportionate discipline whenever harassment is found to have occurred.
The EEOC report recommends that employers dedicate sufficient resources to train middle management and first-line supervisors on how to effectively respond to any harassment situations they have observed or reported to them.
Employers can also engage an outside organization to provide guidance on this topic, such as their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) partner.
How can the EAP help?
An EAP can offer on-site training, so employees understand:
• What constitutes harassment?
• Its impact on the workplace
• How managers and supervisors should handle a reported harassment situation
EAP – Experts in Critical Incident Response (CIR)
EAP professionals are trained to respond to an array of critical incidents. This includes reports of sexual harassment impacting the workplace and its employees. EAP involvement can help reestablish a safe and trusted work environment and support the process of resilience after a report of sexual harassment.
EAP counselors can also help the individual employees who are affected and exploring their options on how they should proceed (if they were subjected to harassment or are being accused of it). It’s important to note that the EAP cannot offer any legal guidance concerning a specific sexual harassment allegation or comment on a current investigation.
In short, employers who clearly communicate and enforce strong anti-harassment policies can reduce their risk of costly sexual-harassment litigation, while fostering a healthier culture for their employees. Tapping into the expertise of an experienced EAP partner can also help address sexual-harassment policy issues and any related wellness matters that may arise.
Pauline Krutilla, director of EAP at Aurora Health Care, is available to talk about what makes an effective EAP program, and what every employer needs to know. Visit auroraemployersolutions.org
Feldblum, C. R., & Lipnic, V. A. (n.d.). Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. June 2016, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission