As Bill O’Reilly’s high-profile sexual harassment case reveals, sexual harassment is still alive and well in the American workplace. Indeed, it even continues to be tolerated by many executives who would rather pay off victims (on the condition that they withdraw their complaints and remain silent) than fire high-profile employees.
Despite the message that Fox and other large U.S. companies, including Uber (who has recently grappled with its own internal sexual harassment problems), appear to be sending to both victims and harassers, the guidelines on sexual harassment are clearly spelled out by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Sexual Harassment Training as Prevention
In response to the O’Reilly scandal, eLeaP’s staff dug into its extensive archive of sexual harassment training videos and these are just three of the required training videos that we think O’Reilly and the executives at Fox News would benefit from viewing:
Harassment Hurts: It’s Personal: This video explores all forms of harassment in organizations and emphasizes how treating others with tolerance and respect can prevent harassment.
Harassment: Preventing Harassment: Creating a Positive Workplace in Office Settings: This video explores why it is critical to treat employees with respect and understanding and how to avoid inappropriate comments, jokes, language, and photo sharing.
Harassment: Handling A Sexual Harassment Investigation: This video offers managers detailed advice on how to address sexual harassment allegations and carry out sexual harassment investigations. It details the employers’ legal and ethical responsibilities in he face of sexual harassment allegations and further outlines the necessity to launch investigations as soon as allegations are made. The video offers investigators a how-to guide on how to document allegations, gain consent, interview the parties involved and close an investigation. It’s a must-see video for anyone in a supervisory role.
The Cost of Workplace Sexual Harassment
In 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated over 90,000 charges of workplace discrimination. Among those cases, a staggering $482 million were awarded in damages. But the cost is much greater to organizations. Other less visible costs include a lack of diversity, higher levels of employee absenteeism, high turnover among employees, and lost market value. While not a major issue in the past, the final hidden cost (lost market shares) has much to do with the recent rise of social media. As seen in the Uber scandal, when employees leave, they now have the ability to reach potentially large audiences by posting about their experiences of harassment on Twitter and Facebook and through blog posts. The damage such posts can do to one’s brand can’t be underestimated. In the case of Uber, one employee’s post prompted thousands of users to delete the Uber app from their phone and switch to other ride sharing apps, such as Via or Lyft. The company is now also spending millions to build up its reputation again. The message is clear: Offering sexual harassment training upfront (for all employees and especially for the managers charged with handling complaints) is a cost-effective way to mitigate problems down the line.