Most employees do not report workplace harassment because it is not an easy task to do. Despite the fact that the “me too” movement has swept through the nation, it is still estimated that 70-80% employees do not report their incident and did not confront their harasser.
When victims are asked who they were harassed by, they will identify people with various positions and statuses. Almost 70% of people said they were harassed by their boss or higher-ranked personnel, whereas nearly 30% of people said that they were harassed by their colleague.
Most individuals who were sexually harassed or discriminated against in their workplace, they reported that they did not confront the person who harassed them. About 50% said that the harassing behavior remained the same even after reporting it and 15% said the harassment got worse.
Here are some reasons why employees do not report workplace harassment incidents:
IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL
Many employees who face harassment in their office think that their complaint is not severe enough to be reported. They may downplay the incident and feel as if it isn’t worth the hassle of filing the complaint. This happens when the person has a lack of knowledge about what harassment is and lacks understanding on how to deal with harassment situations. Also, sometimes the victim ends up blaming themselves — whether it’s due to how they were interacting with the harasser, because it’s “just how their colleagues are”, or, they are friends/friendly with the harasser, so they did not want to get their co-worker or supervisor in trouble.
NO ONE WILL BELIEVE ME (3 Reasons)
Employees who do not report workplace harassment do not report it because they think that no one will believe them. This will often occur in incidents where there are no witnesses or evidence to prove an allegation. Due to not having enough supportive evidence, lacking of courage/support, and not being familiar with the anti-harassment policies and procedures of the company, victims think that it would be impossible for them to prove an allegation against another co-worker because it will be a “your word, against their word” situation. And, for many harassers, this is what they want. They will consciously commit inappropriate behaviors knowing that there will not be any evidence to support an accusation.
Two other obstacles of victims believing that their complaint will not be believed by management is if the harasser is of higher status or a position of authority within the company and second, if there was a previous consensual relationship between the two the employees. These factors indeed are difficult when a victim or witness is determining whether to file a complaint or not.
Individuals that are harassed and chooses to speak up need to feel comfortable and confident that they’ll be supported. Victims and witnesses want to know that their employment won’t be jeopardized in any manner. The dependability of a job and income for employees is just not worth putting at risk. At least that is what they believe. Many victims fear that their employer will retaliate against them if they file a complaint or come forward as a witness to the incident. As mention above, when there is a supervisor or a person in power that is the harasser, there is a realistic fear of the victim believing that they will lose their jobs, become demoted, get a poor work evaluation, or get a bad reference from the employer for future job opportunities.
DAMAGE TO REPUTATION
Because we spend a lot of time at work, many people tend to develop close friendships with people that they work with. For this reason, victims can be hesitant to file a formal complaint after they’ve been harassed. The fear is that if they report a incident, then it will damage their relationships with co-workers and even become ostracized by them. Since, many people don’t want to cause trouble and they don’t want to be labeled as troublemakers, they feel it is better to stay quiet and not report the inappropriate behaviors.
Many employees do not feel comfortable reporting harassment within the workplace because they feel that they will not be treated fairly because of relationships and friendships within the job. At places of employments, people often form very close friendships outside of the workplace. So, when a complaint is brought to management and that manager is tasked with investigating the complaint is close friends with the accused, why would the victim expect the investigation to be conducted in a fair and impartial manner. Well, the answer is simple. It will most likely be conducted in a bias manner.
To work in an environment that is free of harassment is a Right that we have. Most recently in the last several years, employees that find themselves victims of workplace harassment are standing up for themselves and speaking up against their violators. They are also speaking against the employers that condone such behaviors. Employers that are re-examining and implementing preventative measures for workplace harassment are being proactive in trying to prevent such behavior from occurring, and this is a great start. With these employer actions, it may give a victim the courage to report workplace harassment, and in turn, decreasing the astronomical number of 80% unreported workplace harassment.
Meet the Author
Alana Williams is the CEO and Senior Investigator of J.A. Investigative Services, LLC. J.A. Investigative Services is a licensed and insured investigation agency that specializes in conducting professional and comprehensive Workplace Harassment Investigations and Workplace Harassment Prevention Training. Services and trainings are offered nationwide. Alana is a collegiate Criminal Justice Instructor and a police officer with 10 years of experience. Also, she is a Licensed Private Investigator and a Certified EEO Investigator that has conducted over 70 trainings and guest appearances with audiences of 200+. For more information about our blogs and newsletters,
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