By Elizabeth Berg, Trüpp.

Ignorance is not always bliss, especially when it comes to workplace harassment. Understanding and identifying potential risks and proactively implementing prevention tactics can help prevent harassment in your workplace. Based on a report with data collected by the EEOC1, many factors can result in high-risk conditions. These factors include, but are not limited to:

Isolated workforces

  • Workers in isolated environments are easily targeted by harassers and predators, as there is often no one to witness or protect the worker.
  • Prevention tactic – Use safety precautions such as safety buttons, and when possible, prevent isolation by having employees work together.

Hospitality, sales, and retail workforces

  • Workers in positions that rely heavily on customer service or tipping may fear losing out on money. This can result in a culture that tolerates or normalizes inappropriate or harassing behavior.
  • Hospitality’s culture of ‘the customer is always right’ discourages employees from reporting incidents and managers from properly addressing an inappropriate situation.
  • Prevention tactic – Ensure your managers are prepared and empowered to address inappropriate customers or clients.

Homogeneous workforces

  • These environments create a group mentality and prevent individuals from speaking up about concerns.
  • Diverse individuals tend to stand out and become easy targets of intentional and unintentional harassment.
  • Prevention tactic – Increase diversity and educate employees on inclusion.

Workforces with several young workers

  • Young workers may not be aware of acceptable workplace behavior or lack maturity and understanding of the consequences that may arise from inappropriate behavior.
  • Workers new to the workforce can be susceptible to pressure from those in authority to tolerate harassment.
  • Prevention tactic – Set the tone from the beginning by ensuring that your new employee orientation emphasizes appropriate (and unacceptable) workplace behavior and reporting procedures.

Workplaces with significant power disparities

  • Workers with less authority or power may feel pressure to comply with inappropriate demands or behavior from individuals with greater authority or power.
  • Prevention tactic – Be vigilant of workplace power dynamics and provide anonymous reporting pathways.

Workplaces with monotonous or low-intensity tasks

  • Employees with excessive free time may try to stay entertained by engaging in bullying or harassing behavior.
  • Prevention tactic – Attempt to find ways to keep employees engaged in their work and provide productive activities to fill time.

Workplaces that encourage alcohol consumption

  • Drinking can lead to lower inhibitions and poor judgment, increasing the possibility of individuals behaving in a manner that is inappropriate for the workplace.
  • Prevention tactic – Limit alcohol available at the workplace or at workplace-related activities, and ensure managers are practicing vigilance and intervening when necessary.

What you should know:

Recently many states have started developing laws and training specific to employees in high-risk positions. Below are some recent laws and Senate bills coming into effect or in the pipeline:

What you can do:

  • Provide anti-harassment training to all employees, managers, and supervisors.
  • Ensure your anti-harassment policy is up to date.
  • Conduct a climate or employee survey to identify potential harassment situations.
  • Stay aware of harassment laws in the cities and states where your business operates.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. Published June 2016.

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