Generally, companies with severe or repeated sexual harassment issues are the result of leadership that: (1) do not properly address sexual misconduct, (2) condone acts of sexual misconduct, (3) or turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct. Many of these companies, who claim to have “zero tolerance” policies for sexual harassment, should get their acts together.
“Zero tolerance” is no more than cheap “talk” when companies fail to train their employees, particularly managers and leadership, on the violations and penalties associated with sexual harassment. These same companies often retain management level employees who have a history of sexual misconduct or go on to sexually harass others. Inaction by a company seemingly sends a clear message that the company endorses, condones, and rewards sexual harassment. In these instances, “zero tolerance” like anything else is simply a good idea unexecuted and worthless.
Some companies attempt to further support worthless "zero tolerance" policies by incorporating ineffective investigative procedures. Many of these companies backpeddle when the perpertrator is a popular person at work or top-performer. In an effort to maintain the employment of that popular person or top-performer, these companies too often choose to execute the lightest punishment possible —you've seen it, it's the proverbial “slap on the wrist”. This sort of action by employers simply fails to address sexual harassment and may even produce a breeding ground for future issues of sexual harassment.
What are the secondary effects of “slaps on the wrist” with respect to sexual harassment?
First, they send a message to the victim that the company does not care about them. This outcome causes ancillary effects in the victims morale including harbored hostility toward the company, an inability to trust their current company and a lack of loyalty. These effects can also be carried over and placed upon the victim's future employers as well.
Second, the ineffective punishment tells the perpetrator employee that he or she really didn't do anything too extreme or outrageous, because the punishment did not fit the crime.
Third, and worst of all, the “slaps on the wrist” tell all other employees, with the proclivity to engage in similar conduct, that it's okay. And even if it's not okay, the risk isn't that bad because the punishment is so light. Sadly, people who are slapped on the wrist for sexual harassment at work may consider that the risk (or punishment) is indeed worth the reward.
Similarly, the above mentioned negative results occur as a result of an internal sexual harassment complaint being totally ignored. What's most problematic about these results are that they become fertile ground for a hostile work environment and heavy exposure to external investigations and litigation.
If a business takes the capitalistic approach it would be wise for them to avoid the nonsense connected to perpetuating a playpen for sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment is not only a problem for women, it also effects men. However, the negative stigma associated with being a male asserting a sexual harassment claim causes many men to keep quiet instead of speaking up.
Nevertheless, the issues men face with respect to sexual harassment and the inadequate responses to their claims are resonating more among human resource leaders and employment rights advocates. For too many years sexual harassment was not viewed a a serious issue for male employees. Therefore, many male employees were discouraged, disregarded and left without appropriate relief for violation of their rights. Today, these cases are springing up throughout the country. Indeed, sexual harassment is now a more gender neutral concept, even in the Armed Forces. Thankfully, progressive efforts now afford male employees protection against any employees engaging in sexual misconduct.
All in all, sexual harassment is a serious, gender neutral form of misconduct that employers need to actively manage and discourage. Proper management of these issues can give male and female employees more confidence in their employers, which assists in building loyalty and hopefully positively impacts the bottom line. Please chime in with your thoughts.
By DaSean A. Jones | 832.224.6740