In the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement quickly became a global phenomenon after celebrity Alyssa Milano encouraged sexually harassed citizens to share #MeToo on social media to indicate they were a victim. It led to a well-documented year of powerful people in disgrace and organizations discovering on-the-job sexual harassment is rampant. More than a year later, the movement continues to shed light on what has become one of the most significant human resource stories in decades. Because more and more people have been willing to step forward with their personal accounts, companies big and small have felt the impact. These 2018 statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are incredibly sobering:
  • The EEOC filed 41 lawsuits that included allegations of sexual harassment—more than a 50 percent increase over 2017.
  • Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased 13.6 percent over 2017.
  • The EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for sexual harassment victims through litigation and administrative enforcement — up from $47.5 million in 2017.
  • Hits on the EEOC’s sexual harassment web page more than doubled as individuals and employers sought information to deal with workplace harassment.
Let’s consider those words carefully: Deal with workplace harassment. Is it something we should “deal with” or should we make a concerted effort to eliminate it from business culture altogether?

Understanding the Impact of Sexual Harassment

It’s easier said than done, but it’s something every small business owner must consider. And it’s going to be an uphill battle if perceptions like these don’t change:
51% of respondents in a Pew Research Center survey say the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault will lead to “not much difference” for women in the workplace. And 51% said the focus has made it “harder” for men to know how to interact with women in the workplace.
And this survey was conducted in February-March of 2018 — while the headlines were coming fast and furious! What’s a small business owner to do? First, it’s important to recognize the impact harassment can have on your business. Let’s look at a few scenarios to help you better understand the culture that might materialize if harassment isn’t addressed. Situation #1: The Victim. It’s all too common for sexual harassment targets to keep quiet for fear of being outed and ridiculed by peers — He was only kidding … Why did you take him seriously? There’s also the legitimate fear of retaliation from the person reported. As you can imagine, a common response to harassment is anxiety, both at and away from the workplace. Depending on the individual, the impact can be significant and even lead to depression, especially if the harassment is ongoing, undetected and unreported. Victims often change their work routines to avoid potential interaction with the offender. This could lead to reduced productivity and increased tardiness or absenteeism — not because they aren’t a good employee, but due to a desire to avoid conflict. Another point to consider for small business owners: The smaller the business, the harder it is for the victim because there is literally nowhere to hide. Situation #2: The Witnesses. If the offender is persuasive and well-liked, chances are good other employees may take sides — even if they believe the behavior is inappropriate. It is not uncommon for others to apologize on behalf of an offender, passing off the situation as a one-time offense by saying things like … It was all in good fun … Don’t be so uptight. If the inappropriate behavior isn’t reported, the offender suffers no consequences and, potentially, feels empowered to continue his harassing ways. This, too, has a negative impact on your business because those who witness harassment aren’t always comfortable reporting it. Even if it comes to light weeks later, they may not offer insight due to guilt that they didn’t act sooner. This leads to even more anxiety in the workplace if no action is taken.

Do Something … Now!

According to a November 2017 NBC survey, fewer than one in five companies made an effort to discuss appropriate conduct, hold training or change sexual policy in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Eight months later, however, a June 2018 survey by career consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., found that companies were responding: 52% said they had reviewed their sexual harassment policies, up from 34% in January. Now, for the big questions: Do you have a sexual harassment policy? Have you provided harassment-prevention training for employees and managers? If not, there’s no time like the present to ensure no one experiences a #MeToo moment on your watch. As daunting as it might seem to address such a monumental task, you don’t have to go it alone. You can address workplace harassment head on with the Harassment Training Smart App, which allows employees and managers to undergo cost-effective and thorough online training. The app lets you easily conduct individual training with employees and keep records of completion dates to maintain compliance.
Key Takeaways
  • #MeToo created awareness around a problem many business owners weren’t of.
  • Sexual harassment lawsuits and charges increased dramatically in 2018.
  • Productivity can be severely impacted if harassment isn’t reported.
  • Both victims and witnesses can experience anxiety in harassment situations.
  • Having a harassment policy and providing training is an important first step to addressing it.