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Employers Are Improving Their Harassment Processes as Claims Increase

Allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace continue to rise, according to a study by HR Acuity.

That, however, might ultimately be a good thing.

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The “Employee Relations Benchmark Study,” which is based on responses from more than 150 organizations, found that 53% of the organizations have had increases in sexual harassment allegations and 45% expect harassment claims to increase again in the next year.

Deb Muller, CEO of HR Acuity, said the increase represents a shift in attitudes by employees as a result of the #MeToo movement.

“That doesn’t mean that people are starting to behave any differently or all these egregious things are happening, but instead that they’ve been given the OK to report this and it’s expected of them to report it,” Muller said. “It’s the norm now.”  

Coinciding with the increase in harassment claims is an increase in the percentage (41%) of organizations that require investigations, up 8% from last year. An additional 10% of organizations said they would be implementing required practices for investigations in the next 12 months.

“I think it’s that people are recognizing that we need to have a process in place and senior leaders are starting to ask questions to their HR leaders,” Muller said. “Employees are becoming more demanding, because they’re more knowledgeable about what to expect. Those two things converging are really making a change happen.”

Ensuring that investigators have the appropriate skills and capabilities is also an important part of the process. Right now, 58% of organizations are providing investigatory training on an “as needed” basis, often relying on the experience an individual brings to the role. 

To improve the way in which HR professionals handle these investigations, organizations are incorporating technology. The study found that 38% of companies that use technology to support employee relations have adopted solutions specifically designed for managing employee relations.

“Companies are changing their processes in how they manage these issues,” Muller said. “This is a trend we’ve seen since we’ve been doing this.”

Executives, who are often the focus of these sexual harassment claims, aren’t immune to training. The survey found that 39% of companies have initiated enhanced sexual harassment training for their executive leaders and an additional 30% are planning to implement similar training for executives within the next year.

Organizations are also leveraging technology in hopes of getting out in front of potential employee relation issues.

More than 60% of organizations are now using employee relation metrics to gain deeper insight into employee behavior, engagement and performance to drive policy changes and identify opportunities for early intervention. Additionally, 59% of organizations are now sharing employee relation metrics with executive leadership and many are integrating employee data with other functional areas to spot trouble areas sooner and create a more meaningful assessment of the organizational culture.

While employers have clearly taken steps to improve their harassment processes, there’s still plenty that can be improved. Often when a harassment claim is filed, an employee is told by HR that the complaint is being handled but is left in the dark on what steps are being taken to address the issue. This, Muller said, has to change.

“Organizations need to be more transparent about what they’ve done. They need to be more transparent about the process itself. If we provide our employees with more transparency, they’re going to have more trust,” Muller said. “That’s what’s missing and that’s why employees tend not to come forward. That’s why they might rather share the issues on social media or with a neighbor or with an attorney versus coming and getting help from their employer. At the end of the day, they just want the issue to go away and they just want to be in a safe environment. The good news is, organizations are getting there.”

About the Author

Brett Christie is a staff writer at WorldatWork.

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