Workplace harassment was thrust into global consciousness following the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and rightfully so. There’s no place for it in any business, whether it’s coming from leadership or occurring amongst employees.
Unfortunately, many companies still don’t address the issue head on. Recognition exists, but too many employees and business owners don’t think it’s happening on their turf. According to a 2017 NBC News-SurveyMonkey poll, 81% of respondents believe sexual harassment is a problem for U.S. businesses, yet 90% believe it doesn’t occur where they work.
Consequences of Not Addressing Harassment Are Severe
“Severe” may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s a reality. Avoid addressing harassment and your business may suffer irreparable damage. Recent statistics speak volumes: The number of lawsuits (up 50% in 2018 per the EEOC) and complaints (up 13%) indicate victims are taking action, which could be financially devastating to your business.
That’s just from a legal perspective, though. If there is a culture of harassment in your business, it can have a significant impact on your business in ways you might not consider.
Impact #1: Morale. The emotional impact is significant — on victims and employees who may witness harassment. Unaddressed issues often lead to victims and witnesses becoming negative. And the problem only gets worse when victims feel there’s no avenue for reporting offenses or, even worse, they opt not to share due to fear of retribution. This harboring of negative energy often leads to a decline in morale and productivity, especially if management is aware of offenses and does nothing about them.
Impact #2: Absenteeism. Emotional impacts could lead victims to miss work. They may be traumatized by the initial harassment, but they also may miss additional time simply trying to avoid encounters with aggressors. When other employees cover for unexpected absences, they, too, are impacted. It may cause ill-will toward a victim if absences become chronic. They also may become disenchanted with management for not addressing absenteeism — especially in situations where management does nothing to the offender because they are a leader or top producer. Employees see this, and It’s a downward cycle that’s hard to stop.
Impact #3: Turnover. As morale declines and frustrations rise for both victims and surrounding employees, you run the risk of turnover increasing. Once employees recognize management doesn’t address harassment — especially if there is a belief leadership is aware it’s happening—it’s only a matter of time before the decision is made to seek employment elsewhere.
Impact #4: Reputation. Once the word is out that your business ignores workplace harassment, prospective employees will avoid you. If you have had past success recruiting friends and family of current employees, rest assured, no one will recommend your business if they know you protect bullies or turn away when harassment occurs. And if an employee brings a lawsuit against you, the negative headlines could easily destroy your reputation.
Impact #5: Bottom line. Productivity declines as absenteeism and turnover rise and morale drops. When your reputation is tainted, potential customers may simply stay away. And the cost to defend a lawsuit could force a small business to close. The financial impacts of ignorance are significant.
Take a Stand, Now
The best way to avoid these impacts is to be proactive. Show employees that you take their safety and well-being seriously by creating a written policy clearly defining your position on harassment — what it is, why it’s not tolerated and what the punishment will be for those who break the rules.
Ongoing training is important, too. Encourage discussion so that questions are answered and your stance is clear. Fostering an anti-harassment workplace culture will likely improve morale, reduce absenteeism and turnover, and improve your reputation and bottom line.
The Harassment Training Smart App  from HRdirect is an ideal resource to help small businesses provide effective, attorney-approved training for employees and managers. The web-based app gives you the option to host group training or assign training modules to employees to complete individually.