Management often talks about a win-win solution when it comes to conflicts in the workplace but in reality there are some conflicts that have no ideal solution or answer to a problem reported. Sexual harassment is one of those problems for management to deal with according to federal laws and other regulatory statutes within the organizational policies and procedures as well as other mandatory regulatory requirements posted for all employees to read and see.
It has been established that in most cases, sexual harassment does not get reported to supervisor or the administration until all avenues of informal resolutions are exhausted. There may be exceptions to this rule but the majority cases of sexual harassment reports are what we call “last resort” situations with the inability to find a happy solution to the party who filed the report.
Sexual harassment is a very large problem in the workplace and is pervasive in nature. It does not exempt any particular workplace environment and occurs more than we would like it to happen. In fact, statistically speaking, because the definition of sexual harassment is so ambiguous and less defined, many situations may fall under the umbrellas of such a misconduct and warrants a closer examination for fact finding and closer examination of the complaint.
A national survey shows that 21% of all women report being sexually harassed at work. This amounts to almost a quarter of the workforce who experience some kind of discomfort or unwanted attention while they are working. There is likely a higher percentage in the workforce as many remain unreported by individuals who cope with it and hope it passes.
The biggest deterrent in filing a report is the humiliation and embarrassment caused by the human resource people who usually handle such a complaint. Standing by their zero tolerance policy is declared up front but in the background, they loathe to work on such a grievance due to the political ramifications it has once it is completed.
Even though the laws are posted, it is not strong enough to handle the reality of what happens once a protest is filed. The dynamics are fluid, twisted and highly manipulative by all involved. All those involved are jockeying for leverage to ensure there are no blowback results in how this matter is handled, processed and determined for cause or legitimate recommendations for actions proposed.
A closer examination of this reveals an attitude of us versus them that normally results in the company or organization looking out for them first while making the unhappy employee satisfied as the last concern. They view this as a damage control issues that has a risk of collateral damage to other people in positions of authority thus they create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation whether deliberately or not making the entire process flawed, biased and often misunderstood.
The contents of the report filed is closely examined to justify a re-write for insufficient data or information to constitute a legitimate complaint. This is tactfully delivered in a positive approach by indicating the investigation cannot be completed unless they receive more information to substantiate the allegations made and identify specific violations of law. Technically speaking, this is an attempt to stall the process and have someone talk to the employee to see if they will drop the report
In the meantime, since they are awaiting the re-write or amended version of the allegations, they implement corporate steps to protect the “innocents” from collateral damage. This usually takes a few days of gathering emails, meeting notes, performance notes and other documentation that shows management was on top of all the required management principles in how to properly supervise, evaluate and counsel employees related to the law.
In other words, they are getting their ducks in a row. They are setting up an adversarial relationship with the reporting employee whether they realize it or not as the us versus them results in biased action plans to protect themselves and the company rather than the employee.
At this point they will look at making sacrifices and take action against the alleged violator or the reporting employee for conduct unprofessional or other violations of company rules. The table are now turning where the reporting employee becomes a target of an investigation for their own conduct or misconduct rather than focusing on the employee reported in the report.
Mentioned before are the twisted ways the company scrambles to comply or to fit neatly in the law and policies. Most of the energy spent on sexual harassment cases are to protect the company as they do not want to end up in a courtroom and discuss their dirty laundry in front of a judge.
Eventually in most cases, the victim gets frustrated, ostracized, labeled as a disgruntled or unhappy employee and gets fired for something they did or didn’t do whichever may be the case. The law is not strong enough to protect an employee from retaliation and most of the time, retaliation is not taken until a significant period of time has passed and a new supervisor or new job assignment has occurred making it a clean case for disciplinary action.
Thus the reality is when you report it to Human Resources you may be sacrificing your career for telling on someone who harassed you or violated the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and may suffer a mild form of discipline or be terminated based on the severity of the complaint but the fact remains, you are not off the hook until the case is completed settled internally and administratively.