Sexual harassment in the workplace: what to know in 2022
June 1, 2022
Many people think of sexual harassment training when they think about employee training programs. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is an ever-pervasive issue, becoming even more so during the pandemic. It is well known that so many people feel unsafe in their workplace . Yet, a surprising number of companies fail to invest in regular sexual harassment training for employees.
Having policies on sexual harassment and a formal code of conduct isn’t enough. Sexual harassment training is accessible and vital to organizations of all sizes. Here’s why.
The prevalence of sexual harassment in 2022
Most current blog posts on the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace mention #MeToo. Yet studies have shown that the movement hasn’t had the impact many would hope. The current statistics reveal just how crucial it is for all organizations to prioritize sexual harassment training for employees:
- 69% of women have been sexually harassed in a professional setting (i-Sight.com)
- Of those who have been harassed, 72% experienced it from someone senior to them in the organization (i-Sight.com)
- 56% of employees have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment in the workplace (TLNT)
- Only 8% of those who experienced unwanted physical touching reported it
- 68% of LGBTQ employees report being victims of harassment at work.
- Sexual harassment is the most common form of reported workplace harassment, accounting for 50% of all complaints (Hiscox)
- In 2020 there were 6,578 complaints filed. This is a slight decrease from 7,514 in 2019, possibly due to the pandemic. Keep reading for more on how Covid-19 has impacted sexual harassment in the workplace.
Reporting sexual harassment
While more awareness has been raised around the prevalence of sexual harassment in professional settings, studies show that many employees still lack the empowerment to report their experiences. According to the EEOC, the majority of women do not report harassment.
Says the Institute for Women’s Policy Research:
“Research suggests that only a small number of those who experience harassment (one in ten) ever formally report incidents of harassment—let alone make a charge to the EEOC—because of lack of accessible complaints processes, simple embarrassment, or fear of retaliation (Cortina and Berdahl 2008). This fear is justified: according to an analysis of EEOC data, 71 percent of charges in FY 2017 included a charge of retaliation (Frye 2017).
Sexual harassment and the pandemic
While workplaces have changed due to the pandemic, harassment in them has not. Instead, the harassment has become less visible and perpetrators have been emboldened to offend in private spaces such as DM threads. Compounding the problem is that a remote workplace makes it harder to communicate about codes of conduct, make reports, and respond or investigate reports.
On the surface, it may seem counterintuitive that a remote workplace might make harassment as prevalent if not more so. However, when looking underneath the surface, a hotbed of risks exists. The EEOC lists 12 factors that when combined, pose a risk for harassment to occur within an organization. A large number of factors make a newly remote workplace hazardous:
Workplaces Where Work is Monotonous or Consists of Low-Intensity Tasks
It is well known that moving from a physical to a remote workplace led to even the most committed and normally engaged workers feeling that they had more time on their hands than they knew what to do with. This, combined with the general public spending more time at home created feelings of monotony. Says the EEOC: “In jobs where workers are not actively engaged or have “time on their hands,” harassing or bullying behavior may become a way to vent frustration or avoid boredom.”
There is no secret that the pandemic has led to isolated workplaces, which has had both benefits and downsides for employees around the country. One of the downsides is that privacy emboldens abusers.
Workplace Cultures that Tolerate or Encourage Alcohol Consumption
While the pandemic may not have resulted in workplaces modifying their policies on alcohol consumption, the onset of virtual happy hours for teams may have led to relaxed attitudes about drinking during work hours. Furthermore, multiple studies have shown that employees drank while working at fairly high rates. A poll of more than 1,100 employees conducted by Sierra Tucson, for instance, found that over a quarter of those polled had attended a Zoom meeting under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. The research firm Nielsen, on the other hand, found that as many as 9 out of 10 workers admitted to drinking while working remotely.
Locational flexibility provided many benefits for employees, especially those with children or looking to adjust hours in response to the demands of the pandemic. Just a rapid change, however, left unexpected issues many managers were ill equipped to address. Says the EEOC of decentralized workplaces: “In such workplaces, some managers may feel (or may actually be) unaccountable for their behavior and may act outside the bounds of workplace rules. Others may simply be unaware of how to address workplace harassment issues, or for a variety of reasons may choose not to “call headquarters” for direction.”
The correlation between the pandemic and incidents of sexual harassment is in the early days of being analyzed in the United States. A preliminary study by TalentLMS indicates that the problem grew worse. Of 1,200 employees polled, 29% of females said they had experienced sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances on an online platform since the start of the pandemic. And interestingly, there was a huge spike in male employees reporting the same, although TalentLMS does note that more men participated in their study.
If other western countries are an indication of the potential dangers lurking in the new remote workplace more attention should be given to training that applies to the virtual environment. A survey of women in the UK found that 23% of female workers experienced an increase in harassment since beginning to work from home. An Australian employment commission reported an 8% increase in sexual harassment complaints since the pandemic.
Training: a necessary response
The study by TalentLMS also revealed a lot about employee training on sexual harassment including its prevalence, its effectiveness, and its importance. Some of their findings include:
- Despite the use of resources that sexual harassment complaints require, only 17 states have laws that mandate training. Of those states, 11 of them only require sexual harassment training for state employees, not the public sector.
- Surprisingly, only 14% of survey participants received their sexual harassment training online. This is an enormous opportunity considering that so many online resources are available and accessible today.
- Men appear to be more comfortable receiving training from a supervisor. Says TalentLMS: Forty-three percent of men report feeling comfortable with receiving training from their own manager, compared to 32% of women. Thirty-three percent of men feel comfortable with receiving training from a senior company representative, compared to only 16% of women.
- There is compelling evidence that sexual harassment training for employees leads to few incidents. 86% of the survey participants said that they had a better understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment as a result of their training.
- There is a strong link between sexual harassment training and talent retention. Following the training:
- 71% said they were more likely to stay at the organization.
- 71% said they felt more valued by the organization.
- 61% said they felt more valued in their role.
TalentLMS’s study also looked at rates of online sexual harassment since the pandemic began, understanding on how to report harassment, comfort around reporting witnessed harassment, and how incidents are handled. View their entire report here.