When I started out in the workplace about twenty years ago, sexual harassment prevention training was practically nonexistent. In fact, it was seen almost as a joke. Those that complained about inappropriate behavior or touching were often seen as people who just couldn’t get along well with a team or who couldn’t take a joke. Those employees were often left out of invitations to events for fear that they would “spoil” the fun or who simply “couldn’t hang’ with the guys. Many of us didn’t even consider those comments as sexual harassment! We thought it was simply part of being in a working environment that required thick skin.
As the years have passed, the importance of sexual harassment prevention training has become apparent to me within my role in human resources. Employees need to have an environment that they feel safe in from unwanted behavior. The ultimate goal, of course, is to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place and one way of doing this is to offer the proper tools to employees. Here at gap intelligence, each employee participates in sexual harassment prevention training. As part of our High Five culture, it is imperative that everyone feels safe and knows what to look for. One of our core values is professionalism, A+ work, don’t be a jerk, and knowing how to respect one another is crucial to living up to this value.
The occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace is more prevalent than many realize. According to a recent report from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), one in four women and one in five men have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Even more shockingly, 75% of those harassment victims also experienced retaliation when they reported the incident.
History Explains Silence
Unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances are likely as old as sex itself. It has only become a subject of concern over the past forty years. The term itself was coined in 1975 by a group of women at Cornell University in support of a colleague who sued for unemployment insurance after she quit her job over inappropriate touching. Although federal law has outlawed sexual discrimination in employment under Title VII since 1964, both the courts and public opinion tended to favor sexual harassment as an ‘interpersonal problem’ to be worked out privately.
Despite the number of advances in women’s equality through feminist activism, society still regularly puts the blame on the victim of sexual misconduct with the common response of “what did you do to cause this to happen?”. It should come as no surprise why silence often prevails when a lack of support and negative stigma are placed upon the victim rather than the perpetrator.
The #MeToo movement gained a lot of momentum in October of 2017 when women began using the hash tag as a sign that they had experienced sexual harassment or abuse. The stories and posts about the extent of the abuse and the silence suffered gained enough traction and passion to push for global cultural change. On the heels of this movement, employers quickly started taking proactive measures to train employees on the importance of feeling safe within the workplace along with the reassurance that all employees are aware of what is considered unacceptable.
The state of California moved swiftly and passed SB-1343 in September 2018, which mandates sexual harassment prevention training for all employers with 5 or more employees (both part-time and full-time). Additionally, this training must be completed by December 31, 2019 for all current employees. Supervisor positions require two hours of training and non-supervisory employees require one hour. Once that requirement has been met, employers must provide training every two years at a minimum.
At gap intelligence, our internal values demand that we take sexual harassment training very seriously. With 45 employees, we have already trained 80% of the company mid-year, with the other 20% signed up for future online courses. It is vital that employees know that we allow for zero tolerance of inappropriate and unwanted behavior of any kind.
Recognizing Types Sexual Harassment
Many people may not even be aware that their behavior falls within the realm of harassment. It is important for all employees to have a solid understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment, as well as recognize both explicit and implicit warning signs that put themselves and the employer at risk. Training helps provide tools to objectively view inappropriate behavior and help curb this behavior. Harassment typically falls into two categories:
1. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment (conditional sexual harassment): the type of harassment that most people are familiar with. It involves a harasser who may be a supervisor, manager, or any person of power taking advantage over an individual and demanding sexual favors in exchange for job benefits. This does not have to be laid out explicitly. If it is clear that an employee’s success and/or progress depends upon their compliance with the demands, it is considered “quid pro quo” or “this for that”. This type of harassment only requires one incident to be considered harassment and should be reported immediately.
2. Hostile Working Environment Sexual Harassment: the type of harassment that is typically characterized by extreme or pervasive, distracting behavior that is repeated and unwanted. This includes derogatory comments, slurs, epithets, jokes, discussion of sexual acts, propositions, and unwanted touching. Graphic comments, sexually suggestive or obscene messages (both verbal and written) or invitations also create a hostile working environment. Physically “blocking” or impeding the movements of others is also considered harassment.
Harassers fall into a number of categories. They aren’t just fellow employees, supervisors, managers, officer, or owners of the company. They also include vendors, suppliers, and subcontractors to your organization. Clients, prospective clients, even the public who may be invited into the office or a work related event can be considered harassers. Your delivery person or a visitor to the office cannot be ruled out.
The best way to prevent sexual harassment is to send employees to the required training within the first few months of hire. A number of accredited businesses offer both classroom and online training for employers. Training provides employees with the tools to recognize what sorts of behaviors are not acceptable. The company handbook should also include your policies around your commitment to providing a safe environment, free from harassment. This includes investigating all complaints, zero tolerance, and the importance of reporting all incidents.
Taking swift and immediate action is necessary once abusive behavior has been reported. Complaints should be maintained as confidential to the greatest extent possible. Retaliation is also a form of discrimination. Employers want to ensure that the employee does not face situations where they may be shunned, encounter rumors, exclusion from events, or refusal to work with from others. An investigation by qualified personnel should be done as soon as possible and documented for progress. Companies should offer appropriate options and resolution to the issue and also close in a timely manner.
Who is responsible for reporting sexual harassment? If you are the victim of sexual harassment, report it! If you hear about sexual harassment, report it! If you see sexual harassment, report it! We are all responsible for making sure our work environment encourages a respectful and professional workplace.
For more than 16 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.