Workplace harassment is now out in the open like it’s never been before, with many high-profile cases making headline news. We covered the topic several times late last year on the heels of various allegations that individuals of power were abusing their positions by harassing employees. Workplace harassment is nothing new but as it’s now in the spotlight it has employers sitting up and taking note with regard to their workplace policies and protocols.
A recent survey by Hiscox indicates that 35% of workers feel they have been harassed at work. Among women, the figure is even higher at 41%. The most common forms of harassment are sexual harassment, followed by race and ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and age.
Among survey respondents who said they were harassed, 78% said their harassers were men, and 73% said they were harassed by someone who is in a senior position in the organization. It’s important to note, however, that while there may appear to be a ‘typical’ profile of a harasser, not every alleged offender fits this description. Harassers can be any gender or in any position. Additionally, workplace harassment does not only occur among co-workers. Nearly one in five (17%) respondents said the person who harassed them was either a customer or vendor.
The survey also emphasizes that large companies are not the only ones with harassment claims. In fact, the percentage of respondents who indicated they had been harassed at large companies (those with over 1,000 employees) and those at smaller companies (fewer than 200 employees) was the same (32%). While small businesses may be more resource-constrained than their larger counterparts, the risk is equally as great.
What’s the cost of harassment claim for employers?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), from 2010 to 2017, employers have paid out nearly $1 billion to settle harassment charges that have been filed with the federal agency. In cases of sexual harassment alone, employers paid $46.3 million to settle charges received by the EEOC in 2017. These sexual harassment cases represented 30% of the total charges received. Note these charges do not include any monetary payments received by plaintiffs as a result of litigation.
Also relevant is that many sexual harassment incidents go unreported even in light of the recent spate of allegations and settlements. The Hiscox survey cites that four out of ten people who feel they were harassed didn’t report the incident to company management or the police. This silence around harassment seems largely to stem from fear. Over half (53%) of those who experienced harassment didn’t report it because they feared a hostile work environment. Nearly as many (46%) cited a fear of retaliation (such as being terminated from their job) as a top reason for keeping quiet.
Protection Against Harassment Claims
All employers should have policies in place to prevent, detect and mitigate harassment in the workplace: from educating employees, to fostering a culture of inclusion, to maintaining a zero-tolerance policy, through to watching for behavioral patterns, addressing any allegations and taking all every harassment complaint seriously. In addition, talk to your insureds about their coverages. Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) will respond in the event of allegations made by employees of harassment, sexual harassment or hostile environment. Directors & Officers (D&O) insurance is also critical. Boards of directors (public, private and non-profit companies) have a duty to investigate allegations of harassment and can find themselves embroiled in a lawsuit if it’s alleged that they did nothing to address a harassment complaint.