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How Sexual Harassment Affects the Workplace

Harassment & Discrimination

How Sexual Harassment Affects the Workplace

Sexual harassment is a sad reality in the modern workplace. This unwelcome behavior can make both the victim and their coworkers feel uncomfortable and create a hostile work environment. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported in 2021, women are most commonly affected by sexual harassment, making up 78.2% of their sexual harassment charges between 2018 and 2021.

One positive of the #MeToo movement is the increased frequency of reports of sexual harassment, with EEOC sex-based harassment charges at an all-time high in 2018, but this comfortability with complainant reporting starts at the top. It is the responsibility of an employer to address and prevent harassment in their workplace, whether it is handled internally or with legal action.

This article discusses the different types of sexual harassment, its effects, and the ways that employers can help prevent it. At EasyLlama, our mission is to help companies use our engaging and intuitive training, particularly regarding sexual harassment, to promote a safe, inclusive, and equitable work environment for all.

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The Most Common Types of Sexual Harassment

Harassment is considered any type of behavior that makes another person uncomfortable, based on protected characteristics. It is important for employees and their supervisors to be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and its unwelcome behavior. The three main types of sexual harassment include:

Verbal harassment can be used to make employees feel uncomfortable, humiliated, or intimidated. This non-physical harassment can sometimes be difficult to identify because it brings out different reactions in different people. A few examples of verbal harassment include inappropriate jokes/teasing (in-person or via emails, notes, etc), name-calling or commenting negatively on a person’s appearance (whether to their face or behind their back), or making unwelcome sexual or romantic advances. • Visual harassment describes an instance where an employee exposes their private parts or uses sexually explicit images to make another person uncomfortable, affecting their work performance/attitude. Additional examples of visual harassment can include unwelcome gestures, staring at someone offensively, or displaying inappropriate messages in the office, creating a hostile work environment. • Physical harassment is the inappropriate touching of an employee against their will. It can also be called workplace violence and is used to intimidate, embarrass, or make the victim feel uncomfortable. Physical harassment can be as overt as sexual assault, abuse, and rape, or it could be as subtle as deliberately brushing or rubbing their body against someone else’s. Physical harassment can also look like inappropriate grabs, kisses, or hugs, intimidating gestures, blocking someone’s movements, or any unwelcome touching of another employee’s hair, clothes, or body.

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Additional Types of Sexual Harassment

While verbal, physical, and visual harassment encompasses the overall types of sexual harassment, there are additional forms of harassment that may be more specific and harder to define.

• Job-related incentives in exchange for sexual favors, also known as quid pro quo, are a common form of harassment used by superiors on their subordinates. Employees may feel implicitly or explicitly required to provide their supervisor with sexual or romantic favors in exchange for a promotion, bonus, or even just to keep their job. This is a wildly inappropriate abuse of power by someone in authority and can make the victim feel intimidated or threatened, especially if they do not give in to the request for sexual favors. • Third-party harassment is a form of harassment that is perpetuated by individuals outside of the employee’s company, including clients, vendors, independent contractors, or customers. If this unwelcome behavior is severe or pervasive, it can create a hostile work environment for the victim. Whether sexual harassment is committed by coworkers or someone on the outside, it is up to the employer to take steps to end it, or else they could face legal action.

Negative Effects of Sexual Harassment

It is well-documented by a number of scientific studies that victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can face major impacts on their mental and emotional well-being, with correlated disorders including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a decrease in self-confidence or motivation. Of course, in dealing with a sex-based harassment case poor emotional health is also linked to physical health, which can lead to a loss of appetite, weight fluctuations, headaches, emotional exhaustion, and trouble sleeping. Studies also show a link between victims of workplace harassment and alcohol abuse or the risk of eating disorders.

Negative effects on a harassment victim may also include financial troubles, such as lost wages or unpaid leave. Some employees may choose to leave their workplace after facing sexual harassment in order to avoid a hostile work environment, which could lead to a period of unemployment and possibly financial challenges. They may also have a hard time finding new career prospects if they have lost job references from a direct supervisor who was abusing them or other coworkers who sadly may not believe them.

Impacts on the Overall Organization

Sexual harassment can also decrease morale and productivity in the company where it takes place. Studies show a correlation between victims and avoiding the workplace and neglecting to complete tasks at the office. In fact, one researcher found that “sexual harassment is more likely to result in its targets avoiding work than any other type of outcome, including actual turnover.”

In an organization at large, sexual harassment has been linked to decreased job satisfaction in not just the victim but among those aware of the situation, as well as conflict among teams leading to decreased performance and increased turnover. Bystanders who have to witness (and possibly report) sexual harassment may also experience poor job satisfaction, especially if they believe their company has an attitude or culture that seems tolerant of harassment.

Researchers have also found that when companies have terms like “sexual harassment” frequently mentioned on job review sites like Glassdoor or Indeed, they can suffer a hit to their reputation and negative impacts on performance and profitability, with stock returns as low as –13%. The local, national and global economy could even be potentially impacted by employee turnover, poor morale, and premature retirement related to sexual harassment cases.

Preventing Workplace Harassment

Employers are legally responsible for their employees with regard to any type of sexual harassment. If you, as an employer, have prior knowledge of harassment and do not take immediate and appropriate action, you could be subject to legal charges. Not all reports of harassment require legal action on your part, and EasyLlama training can help you learn when and how to appropriately respond to a sexual harassment charge from an employee, in a timely and effective manner. We can cover both Federal Sexual Harassment Requirements as well as education on a state-by-state basis for managers, supervisors, and employees.

There are also a few steps that employers can take to help stop sexual harassment before it happens. When you invest time and effort to protect your employees from a hostile work environment, they will appreciate your concern, and employee morale can improve. First, you can work together with the administration across your organization to craft a comprehensive anti-harassment policy. This policy should address not just sexual harassment, but other types of discrimination and unwelcome behavior. Employers and supervisors can lead by example by distributing and communicating about this policy frequently, and by encouraging respectful interactions.

Employers should establish a fair and clear complaint process for employees with easy access to communication for their concerns. If an employee becomes the victim of harassment from a coworker or outside client/customer, they should already be aware of how they can file a complaint – and that it will be addressed quickly. There should be more than one method of communication to file their complaint, such as an HR staff member, in case the victim’s direct supervisor is their abuser. Also keep in mind that retaliation against a complainant is illegal, and that fact should be clear to employees as well.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

One of the most important ways to prevent sexual harassment is through training, like the solutions provided by EasyLlama. Voted the best on-the-go sexual harassment training solution by The Balance SMB, we can help everyone on your team learn what harassment is, how to report it, and how to prevent it.

All levels of employees should receive workplace training that addresses harassment, and there should be a separate session for each employee group in order to discuss relevant concerns with employees versus supervisors, etc. Regular training sessions can also provide you with the opportunity to share and distribute your anti-harassment policy and to schedule training for additional important workplace topics, such as Bystander Intervention, Workplace Violence, Diversity & Inclusion, and much more, also offered by EasyLlama.

Get Harassment Training

If your company is ready to address and prevent sexual harassment for your employees with our engaging and intuitive training, schedule an EasyLlama demo to learn more or get a free preview of our Sexual Harassment Prevention training.

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