While ambiguous policies and clauses might be beneficial for lawyers in the courtroom, when they pertain to harassment policies within the workplace, the more explicit the better.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has updated its manual Zero Tolerance: Best Practices for Combating Sex-Based Harassment in the Legal Profession, which addresses sexual assault and harassment in places of employment. The goal is not only to prevent these aggressions from occurring, but also to get professionals to engage with the issue that has made its appearance in various career fields.
“Our goal today is to make sure that our workplaces are environments free of harassing behavior and that, to the extent that such behavior does take place, it will be expeditiously and appropriately addressed without retaliation to the victim,” said Hilarie Bass, ABA President. “This manual will help make that aspiration a reality.”
The harassment cases across various sectors of employment are startling, to say the least. It begs the question of what employers can do to prevent sexual harassment from occurring among employees.
Not only that, but the risk of speaking out in fear that it will negatively impact the victim is an issue that needs to be addressed. One study found that 75 percent of harassment victims experienced some form of retaliation for speaking out. The ABA manual tackles this issue by suggesting possible disciplinary actions or sanctions against the aggressor.
“Sometimes they believe that their claim won’t be taken seriously, sometimes they don’t want to go through what they think will be an uncomfortable, public review and sometimes they think that maybe they should just ignore it and it will go away,” said Stephanie Scharf, ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession’s chair.
“There are a number of studies that show that sexual harassment [incidents] are not reported as often as they take place,” Scharf continued.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission conducted a 2016 report that showed that 25 to 85 percent of women reported harassment incidents in their place of work. But women aren’t the only targets of it. The EEOC also found that the number of men who experienced sexual assault at work rose from 8 percent to 16 percent in a span of just 19 years.
The bottom line is that it’s hard for employees, especially women who aren’t in leadership positions, to speak out against harassment because of the risk of retaliation, unemployment, and public scrutiny. There has long been a debate about how some may view action as a form of harassment while others may not – this variable could lead the victim to end up out on a limb and by themselves.
What made the #MeToo movement so impactful was the fact that there’s safety in numbers and the women who spoke out are not financially dependent on the aggressor – the majority were well-established actresses in the industry. They were in a position where they could take charge, but not all women are afforded the same luxury.
Establishing and implementing more explicit anti-harassment policies is the way to help the women who might not have such luxury as the brave women who spoke out during #MeToo have. Employers should follow through with implementation of consequences for the aggressors in harassment cases – otherwise, if they see no consequence, what is there to fear?
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