Harassment at Work
As defined by the EEOC, harassment at work is “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability or genetic information (including family medical history).” And it is illegal when “the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

Management’s Responsibility
It is a manager’s duty to prevent and effectively respond to harassment and abusive conduct claims as part of building a healthy corporate culture. Harassment, discrimination, and retaliation are not only illegal, but they also have a significant impact on employee performance, employee engagement, employee retention, and organizational health.

The question is: how are managers fulfilling their responsibility?

Leaders Need to Do Better
We know from the increased volume of our 1×1 Sensitivity Training for Leaders  and Respectful Workplace Training that harassment at work is far from over.

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, many more employees have come forward in the last few years to report harassment and assault. Progress has been made in fighting sexual harassment in workplaces but still far too many employees feel unsafe at work.


Not all employers are not doing their part to protect their employees from retaliation. The National Women’s Law Center reported that more than 70% of those who requested help from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund faced some form of retaliation that ranged from the subtle all the way up to blatant termination.

What Leaders Can Do
For everyone’s sake, leaders need to step up and ensure an environment where people feel safer first to report any kind of harassment and then from any kind of retaliation. Here are steps to take:

  1. Establish Protective Policies
    Make clear exactly what constitutes harassment and that it is strictly prohibited, provide multiple ways it can be reported when it occurs (including a mechanism for anonymous reporting), and ensure protection against retaliation.
  2. Clarify Investigation Protocols
    Ensure that each report is followed through according to established processes and be ready to call in outside experts when warranted.
  3. Share Information
    Provide updates as the investigation progresses. Sometimes not all the information can be appropriately made public. If that is the case, explain why.
  4. Support the Abused Employees
    Those employees who have suffered harassment and reported it need their leaders’ support. Do they need time off, counseling, or career assistance?
  5. Learn Ways to Improve
    You need input from your workers on how to improve the culture so opportunities for harassment are at a minimum. Use confidential surveys or small, safe-space discussion groups to learn how you can build a respectful workplace where inclusivity and fair practices reign.

The Bottom Line
When employees are courageous enough to report harassment, can you as a leader ensure protection against retaliation? It is what you must do to make people feel safer at work.

To learn more about being a better leader, download 29 Ways to Build and Maintain Trust as a Leader

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