survivors, employees and advocates
finally started speaking out about the
injustices they faced (or currently
face) at the hands of trusted friends,
colleagues and bosses. They no longer
want to remain silent or serve as
Experts say that even organizations
with the best policies and procedures
about handling harassment claims may
be stymied in how to respond because
of precedents and policies modeled at
the top. If the executives don’t illustrate
appropriate behavior or if they demand
HR sweep claims under the rug, HR
professionals don’t have many options
but to comply with the C-suite.
Unfortunately, that can lead to a lack
of trust among employees, who feel
their only option is to report abuse to
an outside organization like the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission.
Each year, the EEOC handles
thousands of harassment claims,
though in recent years, the number
has decreased slightly. For example, in
fiscal year 2012, the number of sex-based harassment charges filed with the
EEOC hit 30,356. This number dropped
to 25,605 in FY 2017. This decrease
in reports may reflect that companies
are starting to take harassment more
seriously, and that employees feel
more comfortable addressing the issue
internally, experts say.
Though HR can only control so
much, there are opportunities for
improvement. Instead of waiting for a
claim to surface or ignoring underlying
issues within a company, HR leaders
must move away from reactive policies
and embrace proactive solutions.
Culture of Respect
The first thing that needs to
be addressed is company culture.
According to experts, culture is the
most important determinant of a
healthy workplace, free from any form
“I ask clients to tell me about their
culture—are people kind and respectful
to each other? Do people feel there’s
a culture of civility?” O’Brien says.
“Then I look at the policy—I want to
see if they specify what behaviors are
inappropriate. Are supervisors and
employees trained on culture and
policy? Does your organization include
examples of civility and remind the
entire company that everyone is a
Successful anti-harassment strategies,
he says, need to include two important
components: prevention and treatment.
Prevention requires building a
culture of respect and creating a
comprehensive policy that dots all the
legal i’s and crosses the legal t’s, he
says. It also must include extensive
training that emphasizes that culture.
The treatment component embodies
the seriousness with which the
company takes its policies and training,
O’Brien says, adding it can be seen in
the way in which it responds to a claim.
“Leadership,” he says, “needs to ask,
‘Would we want this [harassment] to
happen to someone in our family? Are
we doing the right things to ensure that
this doesn’t happen to an employee?
Because that individual is someone’s
family.’ I think stepping back and
looking at it from this perspective offers
Sexual harassment is hardly new.
The public-awareness floodgates were
opened in 1991 by Anita Hill, who
revealed the alleged horrors inflicted
upon her by Clarence Thomas, her
former boss. Flash for ward to 2018 and
it seems that every day the public has
heard another new claim about men
using power to harass and abuse others.
This decade’s most notorious
offender (so far) is Hollywood mogul
Harvey Weinstein, but he’s not alone.
Former Alabama Attorney General
Roy Moore, former Senator Al Franken
(D-Minn.), Today Show anchor Matt
Lauer and countless other famous men
If you’re not nervous about workplace sexual harassment, you should be. “Nerves are good—it means you care [and will] pay attention to the problem,” says Michael P. O’Brien, an employment-law attorney at Jones Waldo, a Utah- based law firm. “Use this nervous energy to
make positive changes,” he adds.