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Addressing Sexual Harassment in 2021 and Beyond

The quality of a business’s culture can impact its public perception and, potentially, its long-term prosperity. Few factors are more detrimental to an organization’s health than a workplace environment of inappropriate behavior.

And in 2022, the need for a continued focus on sexual harassment will be vital. Building an environment for your workforce geared toward the prevention of sexual harassment not only helps you drive efficiency, but also retain and protect exceptional talent while helping reduce your liability.

In a recent webinar, AJ Griffin, Paycom’s director of government and community affairs, spoke on the legislation around and consequences of sexual harassment, as well as how businesses may leverage effective technology to help mitigate this critical concern.

Understanding sexual harassment

As the structure and even physical location of our workplaces change, so too does the scope of sexual harassment. Griffin stressed harassment isn’t limited to the confines of an office or regular business hours. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received more than 11,000 sexual harassment allegations, a figure largely unstifled by a significant rise in remote work.

Per the EEOC, sexual harassment isn’t just defined by unwanted physical advances or requests, but can also “include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.” In fact, a 2020 survey from Pew Research Center further proves proximity is not a barrier for harm, as it revealed 41% of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment. Additionally, Griffin explained harassment isn’t limited to work colleagues and supervisors — or any member of an organization, for that matter — but also clients, customers or business partners.

Though the emotional damage inflicted upon sexual harassment victims is often immeasurable, the financial cost to employers paints a clearer picture of this issue’s impact. Per the EEOC, settlements paid to victims equated to more than $65 million, a number that notably excludes the price of litigation. Across the last decade, this yields an estimated total of $2.62 billion in financial losses. Furthermore, sexual harassment raises a bright red flag for many candidates, a repercussion that could have a drastic impact on talent acquisition and retention abilities, particularly against the backdrop of the enduring labor shortage.

For businesses everywhere, “the one-hour training once a year is no longer enough,” Griffin said.

Emerging legislation

As states continue to introduce laws targeting sexual harassment, addressing this issue not only strengthens your business’s brand — it helps ensure your compliance. Over the last year, these states have introduced new or amended legislation related to harassment:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington

California revised its sexual harassment guidance to mandate that businesses include specific points of discussion in their training, including definitions of sexual harassment and abuse, outlines of inappropriate and appropriate conduct and resources for victims seeking remedy.

In Washington, certain industries — such as hospitality and retail — are required to give employees a panic button or a mobile device that allows threatened employees to summon the immediate assistance of a co-worker, security guard or employer representative.

On the East Coast, New York expanded its definition of discrimination, which now includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Though these are just a few of the laws implemented this year, Griffin stressed the importance of being compliant with harassment legislation relevant to your state.

How HR tech helps

Though necessary, combating sexual harassment and boosting compliance can seem intimidating. However, protecting and educating your workforce while limiting liability is possible with the right tools at your disposal.

Griffin recommended adopting a full-spectrum compliance tool that offers real-time insight into the laws affecting the states your business operates within. Such a system should enable you to be proactive in response to new regulations.

Additionally, you should look for a comprehensive learning management system (LMS) capable of delivering regular and evolving anti-harassment training accessible anytime, anywhere, ideally within the same single database your workforce interacts with daily. In order to meet the demands of your workforce, Griffin explained the right LMS should be fully configurable, allowing you to curate, customize and deliver anti-harassment training with ease, while also providing premade courses for universal topics, such as sexual harassment prevention. Finally, the best training solution should be adaptive, so you’re able to quickly align your learning with new rules and policies to help you stay compliant.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.