Anti-Harassment: Preventing discrimination is vital for today’s diverse workplaces.
Harassment and discrimination in the workplace is a complex issue for organizations to manage effectively.
“We have gone from punishing behavior that is objectively wrong to that which is subjectively offensive,” according to women’s business issues writer Elizabeth Larson.
As such, cases of harassment and discrimination suits have become increasingly common, and high-profile and expensive lawsuits have been filed against private companies, non-profit organizations, and the government alike. Though many businesses would like to think they are immune from the possibility of being sued for inappropriate conduct, harassment can affect anyone. And we are all responsible for acknowledging and preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
What is Workplace Harassment, and Why Does It Matter?
Harassment is a form of illegal employment discrimination. It is often defined as unwelcome conduct based on traits protected under the law including age, race/color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or genetic information. However, the most common type of harassment is sexual in nature and creates a hostile work environment where employees may feel uncomfortable or on edge when they come into work.
Because harassment and discrimination often build this kind of negative workplace environment, they negatively affect employee morale and company productivity. Worse, it can even result in people leaving the company. Imagine that some of your company’s employees are gossiping about one of their co-workers, making fun of his ethnicity or religion. This associate goes to work every day, dreading the jokes told behind his back and can’t focus on work. His productivity suffers, and he hates coming into work; time off or leaving the company is his only escape.
A scenario like the one painted above is very real. In her article “The Economic Costs of Sexual Harassment,” author Elizabeth Larson explains that of the people who experience harassment at work, “more than 25% use leave time to avoid the situation. At least 15% leave their jobs. Nearly half of them try to ignore the harassing behavior and suffer a 10% drop in productivity as a result.”
Altogether, the turnover, absenteeism and decrease in productivity lead to a less successful company. Larson continues that friends of victims can even suffer a 2% decrease in productivity, just demonstrating how far-reaching the negative effects of harassment can be. And since your employees spend on average a third of their waking time on the job, they deserve to feel comfortable, focused, and productive.
Many companies innately know that workplace harassment and discrimination are unwelcome, but they often aren’t aware of the full effects of this kind of workplace bullying, or they don’t fully address them. Many times, companies will focus their efforts only to reduce sexual harassment, and they will completely neglect to inform their employees about other forms of inappropriate workplace conduct. In fact, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEO), as a result of too exclusively addressing sexual harassment, the percentage of non-sexual harassment complaints has risen since 2000.
Not only does this “sexual harassment only” approach leave companies vulnerable to potential complaints and lawsuits, but it leaves employees vulnerable to becoming the victim of or perpetrator for other types of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse at work. It leaves companies open to behavior that can call their values of integrity and empathy into question and can terribly ruin their finances.
Dollars and Cents
One of the most horrifying consequences of a harassment or discrimination lawsuit is the financial cost associated with it. According to the Cutting Edge Recruiting Solutions blog, on average, a harassment suit costs a company upwards of $250,000. A case settled out of court averages $40,000, and even if the company wins the case, it could mean the loss of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Here is a case in point.
Bill Buckingham, of Buckingham Computer Services, Inc., battled the courts for more than a year while defending his company against a harassment complaint. His legal fees totaled three months of the company’s profits, according to Larson. With comprehensive anti-harassment and discrimination policies and training in place for his employees, his business could have easily avoided losing that sum of money.
According to the EEO, the first step to prevent these lawsuits is to create a series of policies and procedures that identify and define inappropriate workplace conduct. These policies should also explain a process for reporting harassment and discrimination. However, it is important to supplement these policies with other learning tools to ensure that all employees know and understand company procedures related to harassment.
Your company can prevent harassment and discrimination lawsuits from cropping up in many different ways, and the long-term investment is definitely worth the initial investment; after all, anti-harassment and discrimination training can save a company thousands of dollars in the long run.
As Larson explains, “A typical one-day seminar for 30 or so people costs from $1,500 to $3,000,” averaging from $50 to $100 per person, but a lawsuit can easily cost more than ten times that figure. However, with a day-long seminar, there are no opportunities to repeat the training. eLearning, on the other hand, allows the student to take the course as many times as is needed and can cost a third to half as much, making it a competitive option.
In addition to its affordability, eLearning provides a great option to address harassment and discrimination in the workplace. As the Thomson Job Impact Study found, a blended learning approach that included eLearning allowed employees to access job-related knowledge with 159% more accuracy than employees who had no training.
However, not only does eLearning increase an employee’s ability to retain knowledge in a way that simply reading through policies and procedures will not, but it engages the learner at a level that even other media (like the cookie-cutter 1990’s anti-harassment video) does not. An eLearning module can evaluate and reinforce the knowledge a user has gained through interactive exercises like multiple choice questions and drag and drop activities, and it can segment learning into digestible “microlearning” chunks.
And combined with a Learning Management System, or LMS, eLearning will simplify the processes that Human Resources goes through. For example, by using the LMS, supervisors can automatically assign the compliance training to users, making the process of doling out necessary job training simple and straight-forward.
In addition, an LMS can require that the user demonstrate a certain level of competency in the content before it “signs off” on them completing the course. From a legal standpoint, this feature protects the company by creating and maintaining a digital record that -- in the event of a lawsuit -- demonstrates compliance.
Ultimately, your company and your employees deserve to be successful, and eliminating harassment and discrimination in the workplace is the first step. Through eLearning content and an LMS, you can lead your company to a harassment and discrimination-free future.