Why Does Workplace Sexual Harassment Often Go Unreported?

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts estimate that approximately five million people experience sexual harassment on the job every year. Despite the pervasiveness of this abhorrent treatment, most sexual harassment victims do not report the harmful behavior. The reasons behind why victims decline to report the harassment are many, but there are actions employers must make to address the issue before it becomes a problem and to deal with instances of harassment when they do occur.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace involves discrimination based on a person’s sex. In New Jersey, employees are protected by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).  Sexual harassment also violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was updated in 1986 to clarify that sexual harassment amounts to sex discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal discrimination laws that protect job applicants and employees. The commission does not consider all unwanted sexual behaviors to constitute sexual harassment, but rather it applies two legal standards, either of which can be used to identify whether an action or behavior amounts to sexual harassment.

The first standard has to do with the possible existence of a quid pro quo, which relates to an implicit or explicit threat that the employee will suffer professionally unless they accept and endure the unwelcome advances. The second standard concerns the existence of a hostile work environment because of repeated or severe harassing behaviors that causes intimidation or harm, such as negative employment consequences. Both standards establish the employer’s responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace free of such discrimination.

How Pervasive Is the Problem?

Researchers estimate that 99.8 percent of people who are subjected to sexual harassment at work never file a formal charge against their perpetrator. Even when they do, fewer than 1,500 cases per year are taken through the court system to address the problem. 

What Are the Reasons Sexual Harassment Victims Do Not Report These Incidents?

Victims of sexual harassment choose to allow the damaging behavior to go unreported for a number of reasons. Many just want to move on. Some downplay the severity of the exchanges. Some are concerned that they cannot prove that it happened, or that they may not be believed.

Others are resigned to the fact that nothing can be done. There are often societal factors that convince victims that the harassing behavior is seen as normal. Because of these views, the victim may see no point in pursuing their claim.

In other cases, the victim may feel disempowered or fearful that they will suffer retaliation for reporting on the improper behavior of someone that is well established or of higher ranking. They may fear consequences for their own career prospects or damage to their reputation. Retaliation may come from the harasser, or possibly even directly from the company. Some victims may be actively pressured to bury their complaints. 

Even victims who may not be affected by antipathy or fear may find that their company offers no clear way to report a case of workplace sexual harassment.

What Can Employers Do to Protect Employees from Workplace Sexual Harassment?

To protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace and to avoid liability for allowing such discrimination to take place, employers should have clear policies in effect to address the issue. Companies must have reporting procedures in place and human resources staff well versed in how to handle the claims with a fair investigation and remedy.

Human resources staff should receive training on how to keep the reports confidential and ensure that the victim is not subjected to any adverse treatment for reporting the incident.  

South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, Represent Victims of Workplace Harassment

If you were the victim of workplace harassment, you should be able to hold your employer accountable for allowing a hostile work environment. The South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, can help you present evidence to support your case for damages. To learn more about how we can help, call us today at 856-235-7075 or contact us online for a free consultation. With office locations in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients from Cherry Hill, Burlington County, Camden County, and throughout South Jersey.