Workers say they’re too scared to report sexual harassment to HR

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New research appears to show just how dire things have gotten when it comes employees’ faith in HR to effectively handle sexual harassment complaints.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 11% of employees said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past 12 months. Of those, 76% said they did not report it for reasons that included fear of retaliation or a belief that nothing would change.

“It appears that employees don’t feel that they have the power to bring allegations forward in a way that won’t harm them,” says Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of workforce analytics. “Companies and HR have more work to do to create environments that emphasize respect and minimize the fear of retaliation.”

The organization’s findings are consistent with analysis from Employee Benefit News. Tom Spiggle, a lawyer who specializes in sexual harassment cases, recently told EBN that about 80% of harassment claims are “inadequately” dealt with by HR departments. That poor handling, Spiggle says, can range from the more egregious — outright hostility from HR toward the accuser, or even termination — to the less dramatic but equally harmful: indifference or empty promises.

“Unfortunately, most of the time, our experience has been [that] when women report to HR, things get worse; they don’t get better,” Spiggle says. “I tell employees, legally, they should report it to their employer, but I also tell them, ‘You should absolutely expect that it will result in either nothing happening, or something bad happening to you.’”

See also: HR failed on sexual harassment. Now what?

SHRM’s survey also revealed differences in how HR managers and employees see sexual harassment incidences and policies in their workplace. While 57% of HR professionals said they believed harassment was rare at their companies, only 35% of employees shared that view. Additionally, while 94% of companies said they have anti-harassment policies, only 78% of employees knew they existed.

“A lack of information exists for some employees,” Esen says. “The research findings suggest that, in some cases, policies are discussed as part of new-hire orientation and then shared only during training, which occurs once a year or once every two years.”

Thirty-six percent of HR professionals reported at least one sexual harassment allegation at their organization within the past 12 months. Of those, 36% reported an increase in allegations in the past year, the SHRM research found.

SHRM’s research included two confidential surveys of HR professionals with a total of 1,078 respondents and a survey of 1,223 non-manager employees.

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Sexual harassment Workforce management Workplace culture Workplace management Compliance