No employer wants to face a sexual harassment suit. Neither do they want sexual harassment to impact any of their workers. To this end, nearly every organization in the United States has a written sexual harassment policy to alert workers to proper conduct in the workplace. Yet, researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered that even the most well-thought out sexual harassment policy may add to the problem rather than resolve it.
Understanding Why Most Sexual Harassment Policies Fail
Numerous organizations have been plagued by public scandals and harassment allegations despite having sexual harassment policies in place. Researchers suspected that some form of cognitive disconnect was to blame. They took a closer look at how these policies were being understood by employees. In questioning the employees in both group and individual sessions, they discovered that embedded organizational and national cultural attitudes colored how the polities were interpreted.
Surveys revealed that both male and female workers tend to view the policies as threatening and irrational. This is because most policies focus on behavior and are kept free of emotionally-charged language. For instance, the average policy used the expressions ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ rather than more candid terminology. This neutral language, while seemingly wise, caused some employees to shift their views of the policies based on cultural fallacies that men are rational and competent while women are irrational and emotional.
Recommendations for Drafting a Stronger Sexual Harassment Policy
The researchers concluded that to stem sexual harassment in the workforce, the first thing needed was stronger, more direct language. They recommended using a definition calling a harasser a sexual predator and referring to a victim as a target. This would prevent the intertwining of the policy with erroneous cultural attitudes so that employees will be less apt to shift into a male-centric view that permits them to feel persecuted if they engage in such behaviors.
Another recommendation was to alter current policies that require the victim to call out the perpetrator. Currently, when a person who is the target of a sexual predator reports the conduct, he or she risks becoming ostracized by the rest of the office for causing problems. In essence, the employee must choose between potential isolation from peers and allowing the predatory behavior to continue. Allowing it to continue only causes the target further emotional harm and permits the problem to grow unabated, causing later harm to the organization.
By changing the policy such that anyone seeing sexual harassment has a responsibility to report it, a cultural shift to can occur. Instead of the target becoming a trouble-maker, co-workers become allies. Bystander intervention will also result in a healthier organizational structure by reinforcing cooperation while collectively denouncing sexual predators in the workplace.
Montgomery County Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates Enforce Sexual Harassment Policies Effectively
Sexual harassment is a difficult and complex problem for any business to tackle. As recent headlines and this research shows, no company should attempt to draft a sexual harassment policy without the assistance of professionals who stay on top of the issue. For more than thirty years, the Montgomery County employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates P.C. have worked on both sides of the problem and can help. To schedule a consultation at our Center City Philadelphia offices, contact us online or call 215-569-1999. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.