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The impact of sexual harassment in the workplace

We’ll look at how sexual harassment impacts the workplace and the negative effects it can have on both individuals and organisations.
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Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager
2016-09-14

We looked recently at the importance of sexual harassment policies in the workplace, to help employers and managers create safe, inclusive workspaces for their staff. As we’ve said before, all employees have the right to work in a positive and non-threatening work environment, free from any form of sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, with sexual harassment remaining a serious issue in many American workplaces. Being subjected to unwelcome and inappropriate behaviour at work, while trying to carry on and perform well under the usual stresses of a job, can have damaging and long-lasting effects on an individual.

When incidences of sexual harassment occur within a company, they also have serious repercussions and consequences for the organization as a whole. In the United States, laws have been put in place to protect both employees and employers from the long-reaching impacts of sexual harassment. Did you know that as an employer, neglecting to implement and practice proper anti-harassment policies may be a violation of both state and federal law?

Today we’ll look at how sexual harassment impacts the workplace and the negative effects it can have on both individuals and organizations. We’ll also point you in the direction of some online resources containing more information about workplace harassment, to help you navigate this important topic.

How sexual harassment affects employees

When an employee is being subjected to sexual harassment, the workplace becomes a hostile environment, with the constant threat of physical and/or emotional harm. This can lead to severe distress for victims, with individuals at risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or panic attacks, as well as the physical symptoms that accompany these disorders. 

Low productivity, motivation and morale levels, or high rates of sick leave or absenteeism, may also be signs that an employee is suffering from some form of harassment. As well as causing direct and immediate suffering for individuals, sexual harassment can interfere with work performance and career progression, and even result in people being forced out of their job and income completely.

How sexual harassment impacts organizations

A workplace environment that fails to properly address the issue of sexual harassment will be at risk of developing signs of a negative work culture – low morale, discontent employees and high levels of absenteeism will soon be reflected in lower productivity and profits.

Financially, companies can expect to face higher rates of staff turnover, with the added strains of hiring and training new staff, as well as the expense of sexual harassment lawsuits. A sexual harassment lawsuit will cost your company significant amounts of money, in addition to damaging your reputation and brand name.

Let’s look at the case of California-based company Braun Electric. 

A case of sexual harassment in California

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an agency enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination in the United States, instructed Braun Electric to pay $82,500 for failing to address a sexually hostile work environment created by a manager.

The male manager continually subjected female staff to sexual harassment in the form of explicit propositions and grotesque sexual remarks, with one female employee forced to quit as a result of the ongoing hostile work environment.

Braun’s management did not act to address complaints from staff, with supervisors neglecting to report the ongoing incidences of sexual harassment they witnessed. The company failed to protect its employees.

As the director for the EEOC, Melissa Barrios said, "As agents of the employer, supervisors and managers should act as role models and promote an environment free of harassment. Employers should make sure that supervisory staff is trained not only on the laws against workplace harassment but also on how to effectively prevent and address such issues."

As well as paying the amount enforced, Braun Electric was instructed to retain an external equal employment opportunity monitor to review and revise its existing policies and procedures. The company also agreed to provide annual training for all staff on their rights as employees, as well as additional training for supervisory staff on how to properly deal with these issues.   

Learn more about sexual harassment policies

Managers can play a significant role in preventing workplace harassment. As a manager or team leader, it’s very important that you’re up-to-date with the sexual harassment laws in your state and have solid anti-harassment policies in place to deal with incidences in the proper way.

Does your organization have a strong policy around sexual harassment? Commit to creating a positive and safe environment for your staff, by developing and implementing an effective strategy that prevents and addresses workplace harassment.

You might like to learn more about this area through an online course such as Subtle Sexual Harassment – Management’s New Responsibilities. This short course goes beyond the basic definitions of sexual harassment, to examine the legal liability issues and questions of personal responsibility that managers must face. It offers guidance on important factors to consider when creating an effective sexual harassment policy, as well as practical advice on how to handle reports and complaints.

Subtle Sexual Harassment Training Scenes is another practical, informative resource for managers, with each online training module dramatizing an example of workplace harassment. Throughout the course, the social, legal and psychological impact of the events in each scene is examined, providing learners with tools for navigating this issue.

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