Sexual Harassment at Work

Actual Comments of Why Employees Leave

“I and other women were too afraid to come forward to HR while working here, as we didn’t feel safe that it wouldn’t get back to the people that were doing it and get punished indirectly by them.“

The Solution:

Thanks to the exit interview above, the anonymous employer has just discovered something very unfortunate, but also very important.

In this one statement, HR should and/or could come to several conclusions, including:

  • There is a possible problem with sexual harassment in a certain department.
  • There is possibly a degree of distrust among employees for human resources and management in general (though the fear of retaliation commonly lowers reporting rates).
  • The value of exit interviews cannot be overstated.

Of course, this statement is alarming, but it’s also not proof of anything. It is proof, however, that at least one employee says she 1) felt sexually harassed at work, 2) felt helpless to act on a complaint while employed, and 3) left the company in part or wholly because of a hostile work environment.

The takeaways are many, including that sexual harassment training needs to be considered for management and staffers alike, either company-wide or in the department in question.

We live in much more enlightened and aware times than, say, 20 or 30 years ago, but sexual harassment—whether in the form of inappropriate comments, advances, invitations, topics of conversation or touching—is still a common, often litigious complaint.

Combined, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and various local and state fair employment practices agencies receive 10,000 to 15,000 complaints annually about sexual harassment in the workplace.

According to HR consultant Hunter Lott, who has researched the statistics surrounding the EEOC complaints, the number one reason for sexual harassment lawsuits is that initial complaints about a harasser were not addressed by management.

And so an important part of any training about sexual harassment at work has to be the importance of response—including response by alleged harassers themselves who receive informal complaints.

Of course, employees need to know what harassment is and that it’s not acceptable. They also need to know that if they themselves receive an informal complaint from a co-worker or a request to stop inappropriate behavior that they need to reply to the complaint directly. Only then can the complainant know that the complaint has been heard and will be acted upon.

Just absorbing the information and attempting to change it or stop it is not enough.

As to the unfortunate quote by this particular exiting employee, sexual harassment training can put the issue of harassment fresh in the minds of employees, which “agenda sets” and moves the needle on company culture, improving company work environments.

Training also serves as an official acknowledgment that sexual harassment is not acceptable (and technically illegal)—increasing the likelihood that those feeling victimized will also feel comfortable to make informal or official complaints and act to resolve the issue in house, either directly or through management/HR.

Training should also help unintentional harassers understand that behavior previously thought to be within bounds might not be considered appropriate after all, and help potential victims know that management/ownership/HR is serious about eliminating inappropriate behavior from the company. And that such behavior, when confirmed, will have consequences.

(This blog post brought to you by HSD Metrics, an exit interview company that helps companies reduce employee turnover by providing automated reference checking, exit interviews, and by measuring employee retention. The comments from exiting employees that are featured in this blog are collected from actual exit interviews conducted using ExitRight, HSD’s exit interviewing service. Because we place the privacy of our clients at the top of our priority list; the names of all involved parties are kept completely confidential. Check our blog often for posts like this, to reduce employee turnover within your organization. If you are interested in learning more, contact us today.)