What’s the best way to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, especially when you manage an hourly workforce? It remains a burning question—even though 94% of U.S. companies have anti-sexual harassment policies in place.
Despite the increased awareness brought on by the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment in the workplace is alive and well. According to one recent nationwide survey, one in five American adults have experienced sexual harassment at work—or 27% of women and 10% of men.
Related EEOC-filed lawsuits are on the rise, too. In fiscal year 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed 41 lawsuits charging sexual harassment, more than 50% than in 2017. Many of these lawsuits concerned hourly workers, including servers, cashiers, clerks, administrative assistants, customer service staff, truck drivers, factory workers and health care workers.
Regardless of industry, when employers allow sexual harassment to flourish in their workplace, they can pay a very steep price. Beyond legal costs (the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for victims in FY 2018), such accusations damage a company’s reputation and standing. In addition, hostile work environments destroy morale, razing productivity.
Surely, every employer wants to provide a safe, respectful workplace for its people—but it’s trickier to achieve in some environments than others.
Lower Wages, Bigger Problems?
Studies indicate that incidents of sexual harassment tend to be higher in blue-collar fields and male-dominated industries, as well as for workers in low-wage positions. The less power a given employee has, the more likely he or she is to encounter sexual harassment in the workplace.
For example, between 2005 and 2015, roughly 12% of sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC took place in the manufacturing sector, traditionally a male-dominated sector.
In addition, sexual harassment cases have plagued the food, beverage and hospitality industry. It even prompted the Chicago City Council to pass its “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance, which went into effect last year. Directed at the hotel industry, the ordinance requires all city hotels to equip employees with a panic button when working alone in guest rooms and bathrooms.
Sometimes perpetrators are coworkers; sometimes, they’re customers. Either way, employees need to know what constitutes sexual harassment, how to respond to it, and how to report it.
Effective Sexual Harassment Training Strategies for the Hourly Workforce
Unfortunately, as The American Psychological Association (APA) has noted, there isn’t much research yet regarding what makes sexual harassment training programs effective—let alone what works for a given workforce.
However, both the EEOC and Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) offer guidelines on how to structure an effective anti-harassment program that make particular sense for the hourly workforce. These include:
- Make training live and interactive – Videos are easier to present, but they aren’t as effective as face-to-face training. When workers are asked to engage in role play, when they associate training with real names and faces, it’s more likely to make an impact.
- Tailor your presentation to your workforce – Use conversational terms your workers understand and use plausible examples set in their work environment. Unless you work in a law firm, avoid legalize.
- Keep it brief – Keep training to under an hour—or better yet, consider breaking it down into 15-minute sessions to keep the information top-of-mind.
- Conduct separate training for workers and managers – workers may not be willing to speak frankly in front of their managers—and managers need more extensive training, anyway. (However, if a high-level executive kicks off the program, it underscores the company’s commitment.)
- Frame it in terms of a respectful workplace – Evidence suggests that employees are more receptive when programs emphasize workplace civility and respect over standalone sexual harassment training.
- Teach bystander intervention techniques – Not everyone is a victim or perpetrator. Show employees how to intervene appropriately if they happen to witness harassment.
- Be mindful of state legislation –California and New York have passed anti-sexual harassment laws for the workplace, which includes training requirements. Make sure you’re meeting all standards.
- Repeat and reinforce training – Include sexual harassment training in your onboarding process; require that employees take ongoing courses at set intervals. It not only keeps knowledge fresh, but underscores that you mean business.
- Treat training as a work in progress – Continually ask participants to rank the effectiveness of your presentation and update accordingly. When it comes to building an effective anti-sexual harassment program, this is where the rubber meets the road.
EPAY Can Help
EPAY Systems believes strongly in maintaining a safe, respectful workplace for all employees, and our focus has always been managing the hourly workforce. Our full-suite HCM system helps employers communicate their policies and protocols to the workforce, conduct training, and track and manage employee performance. See how we make HR easier, freeing you can focus on bigger things.