Business leaders and HR departments are discovering how to handle the effects of the #MeToo movement in their organizations. While more people may feel emboldened to come forward in light of the movement, harassment still often goes unreported. Many employers are wondering:
How can organizations make employees feel comfortable about reporting misconduct and retain their trust at a time when an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) study found unwanted physical touching gets reported 8% of the time and sexually coercive behavior gets reported 30% of the time?
Today, more organizations are taking a high-tech approach with smartphone apps and web platforms that allow employees to anonymously report sexual harassment, ask questions about workplace policies, and access other resources. But how can this technology help encourage more people to report harassment when it occurs? The longer it takes to report an incident, the more likely the reporter is to second guess themselves, lose confidence, and fail to take action. Providing a safe, easy-to-access reporting system allows employees to report issues or incidents immediately.
An organization may also offer the option to make reports anonymous to induce employees to feel comfortable reporting incidents. The reason for high rates of unreported harassment is often the fear of retaliation and because people don’t feel comfortable going to their boss or to the HR department. Technology may help break down that barrier by allowing employees to make a private, discreet, and anonymous report.
However, ABRC's compliance and HR expert Heather Kaiser notes that anonymous reporting can have a downside. Employers may have a difficult time investigating when they cannot identify witnesses, and it could result in reports made without good faith. But even with those challenges, online reporting allows an employer the opportunity to assess the issues as they arise.
The EEOC reported that it filed 50% more lawsuits challenging sexual harassment in 2018 and saw a 12% increase in charges alleging sexual harassment.
Once a charge is filed, an employer has the opportunity to respond. Employers often skip the pre-complaint planning phase of a harassment investigation because they find it unnecessary, and the lack of a formalized plan can be a red flag for regulatory bodies like the EEOC or state agencies. Some technology platforms are designed to automate and simplify harassment investigations while adding consistency and legal defensibility to what is an otherwise inefficient process for many organizations. When our HR consultants conduct harassment investigations, they often must contend with a flurry of back-and-forth emails, documents, or even handwritten notes from an internal complaint or investigation. The right technology solution can help organize and clarify this crucial evidence. The technology can also help HR leaders by providing a standardized methodology for conducting investigations.
State and federal human rights agencies want to see that an employer has an investigation policy and has adhered to it when an internal complaint was made. After receiving a notification letter from the EEOC or a state agency that a harassment charge has been filed, technology allows employers to quickly provide the agency (or the employer’s attorney) with information showing they followed their policy and took an internal complaint seriously by conducting a proper investigation.
In our experience as workforce technology consultants, we’ve found that HR technology solutions can help reduce the time spent on preparing for and managing workplace investigations while providing improved protection from liability.
McKinsey & Company’s 2018 study “Women in the Workplace” reported that 35% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and even though 98% of employers have sexual harassment policies in place, only 32% of women believe that inappropriate behavior is addressed quickly. This next wave in reporting may generate more accurate reporting and result in fewer complaints over time as issues are properly addressed.
Technology for reporting sexual harassment and facilitating investigations certainly won’t solve the problem by itself, but it can help employers who are willing to improve their culture and maintain a safe, productive workplace.
To further explore how you can stay in compliance when it comes to workplace harassment and other employment law issues, register for our June 12 webinar, “While you were out: Recent developments in employment law.”
As a workforce technology consultant, Chris helps clients identify needs, guides them through a selection process and finds the best-fit technology solutions to meet their organizational goals.
As a workforce technology consultant, Chris helps clients identify needs, guides them through a selection process and finds the best-fit technology solutions to meet their organizational goals. As a strategic partner and consultant, she oﬀers practical guidance to help clients make informed decisions when seeking Workforce Technology Solutions. She provides client education, best practice guidance and strives to help clients optimize technology, reduce their administrative burden, streamline business processes and drive employee engagement.
At Vail Place, a nonprofit agency providing mental health recovery services, the role of human resources was changing. Vail Place has two Minnesota locations, one in Hopkins and one in Minneapolis. “Over the past few years, our people have needed to learn new roles,” says Executive Director Vicky Couillard, “while our organization faced a lot of new responsibilities.
The expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is appropriate when it comes to workplace harassment.
Employers who take appropriate measures to prevent unlawful harassment:
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