Workplace Sexual Harassment: More HR Guidance Needed

From news anchors, to titans of the entertainment industry, to corporate executives, and elected officials, headlines show no one is above the fallout of sexual harassment in the workplace. Millions of dollars have been paid in settlements and the once mighty have fallen in disgrace.

Yet, a belated resignation or termination doesn’t absolve the employer from legal action—and often leaves the aggrieved and/or juries wondering how the employer might have handled the situation better.

How can risk managers, human resources (HR), executives and companies they serve help prevent sexual or other forms of harassment? The question becomes more pressing now with the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment” bill. The proposed legislation voids forced arbitration and allows disputes to proceed in court rather than in a confidential arbitration setting. Proponents believe the prospect of making these cases public will reduce such activity in the workplace.

Smart employers aren’t waiting on legislation to make workplaces safer, however. They are planning and training now to reduce sexual harassment to mitigate risk, and therefore, potential damage claims affecting executives and employees across employer ranks. Ensuring such a workplace should result in fewer acts and reports of harassment and insurance claims. As all employers are interested in the bottom line as well as a positive work environment, a more defensible posture against future claims should be top-of-mind for every risk manager and HR Executive.

Old policies prohibiting harassment must be dusted off, reviewed, updated and publicized. These policies protect those whose accusations are proven to have merit or are brought in good faith, they create consequences for those proven to have abused others, and should clearly define expectations and ramifications.

These strategies can help risk managers, HR teams, and employers keep their organizations out of the headlines:

  • Review internal policies and procedures. When was the last time your organization reviewed the HR policies and procedures manual? Older manuals may ineffectively address the issue, including under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance. Once updated, make the document available to the workforce in print and online. However, a manual of policies is only the beginning.
  • Training is not a one-time event for select individuals. To paraphrase Aristotle, inclusion training in the workplace is not an act, but a habit. Hire a professional skilled in workplace diversity and inclusion training, and make courses mandatory from the rank and file to the C-suite. Refresh the training every few years, and make sure every new hire is trained as part of onboarding.
  • Create a “See something, say something” culture. Sexual harassment is avoided best in organizations with a culture of transparency and accountability. Management must welcome reports of unwanted sexual advances, and then investigate such claims. Such activity reported but not acted upon can worsen the environment, and become powerful evidence for claimants in harassment lawsuits.
  • Establish a realistic reporting procedure. If protocol urges an aggrieved employee to report harassment to a direct supervisor—and that supervisor is the alleged perpetrator—an obvious conflict arises. Encourage employees to speak directly to HR or a high level manager such as a division, general or plant manager. The reporting procedure should ensure that certain steps are taken so complaints are not swept aside.
  • Empower HR to investigate all claims. If HR receives a complaint, it has a legal obligation to investigate further. Even if the complainant fears an investigation could jeopardize the alleged harasser’s job, the law is clear that a prompt investigation occur to stop any alleged harassment from continuing. Termination or disciplinary action are not necessarily required; often, claimants just want the behavior to stop. It could be immature or otherwise benign playfulness that crossed the line—behavior a simple discussion could remedy. Follow up with the complainant to ensure the behavior has stopped and to document that follow-up occurred.

Effective policies and procedures in place and rigorously followed can help employees know the organization takes sexual, racial, and other forms of harassment seriously; insurers know you’ve established policies designed to protect both employees and the organization against incidents of harassment; and for those who might see million-dollar claims in the news and think they could be next, that you’ve set up your defenses.

Rules Needed for Office Lottery Pools

Powerball

With the current Powerball Jackpot estimated at $1.4 billion, the highest amount ever, people everywhere are lined up to buy tickets—and making plans for their winnings. The odds of winning Powerball, however, are one in 292,201,338. Meanwhile the odds of being struck by lightning in any given year are one in 700,000.

To maximize their odds of winning, many form pools to purchase more tickets. Often this takes place at work, but if a company is located in a state where the lottery or gambling is illegal, an office pool may not be a good idea.

Powerball tickets are sold in 44 states, as well as Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. They are not allowed to be sold in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah.

“Even if you pool your money and then buy a ticket from another jurisdiction, the criminal statute may still apply. You were arguably participating in and promoting a lottery within the state,” Stephanie Rabiner wrote.

Employees of the U.S. government should also be aware that they are prohibited from taking part in any gambling activity on government-owned or government-leased property, or when they are on duty for the government.

But with so much money at stake, what could go wrong? Plenty, and with the jackpot so high, the likelihood for complications is also increased. Midge Seltzer, president of Engage PEO, lists a few of the potential problems and steps that can be taken to circumvent them.

Potential issues:

  • Employee claims he or she bought the winning ticket and was not part of the pool.
  • Employee only verbally said, “I’m in,” or “Yes, and I’ll give you the money tomorrow.”
  • Participants aren’t actually known, because the pool is so loosely handled.
  • An employee had participated previously, but was absent to contribute to this pool.

Guidance:

  • Ensure that all participants pay prior to purchase of lottery tickets.
  • Choose a leader—the employee who will be responsible to purchase the tickets and put them in a safe place.
  • Make copies of the tickets.
  • Have all participants write and sign their names and have the lead confirm that he/she paid for the tickets.
  • Agree beforehand how employees will choose the numbers (at random or set numbers).
  • Agree beforehand whether employees will take a lump sum or payout.

What are the most popular states for Powerball?

Residents of Rhode Island have bought the most Powerball tickets, with an average of 3.44 tickets per person since the last jackpot was won on Nov. 4, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin.

The top 20 states for per-capita participation in Powerball:

Top-20 States for ticket sales

Why Employees Quit—And How to Keep Them

Why Employees Quit

Employee turnover creates tremendous risk—resources are lost in recruitment and training, productivity lags with insufficient staffing, intellectual property can be exposed, and no company wants to get a reputation as a place where no one can stay very long. Further, the implications for workers comp, lawsuits and insurance extended to employees can cause headaches long after a desk has been cleared out.

A few recent studies highlight some of the biggest factors contributing to employee turnover resultant human resources risk, and what managers can do to keep staff and avoid risk.

Why Employees Leave

A new “exit survey” conducted by LinkedIn among members from five countries found that top reason workers left their jobs was because they wanted greater opportunities for advancement. In a related study from the social network, the number one reason employees who were not actively seeking a new job would be willing to leave was for better compensation or benefits. Regular performance reviews and assessments that open up opportunity for advancement in both responsibilities and salary can help keep employees engaged—and prevent feeling they have to stray to stay on top.

Room to Improve

Another recent study from LinkedIn found that 69% of human resources managers thought that employees were well aware of internal advancement programs. Yet only 25% of departing employees said they knew about these opportunities. In fact, of those who stayed within the company and found a new position internally, two thirds found out about the opportunity through informal interaction with coworkers. Strengthening formal retention and advancement programs and improving awareness of these initiatives may go a long way toward getting employees to use them.

Why New Hires Quit

One in six employees quits a new job within six months — and 15% either make plans to do so or quit outright within that time frame, according to Time. HR software company BambooHR found that the primary factor was “onboarding problems”—in other words, HR or managers are failing to properly orient new hires and integrate them into the workplace. This may seem silly, but they could have reason to feel this is a fatal flaw: research from John Kammeyer-Mueller, associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, found that there is only a 90-day window for settling in. If your new employee is not caught up to speed by then, you may see them walk out the door.

Getting Employees to Stay

CareerBuilder surveyed thousands of workers recently to gain insight into why they decide to stay or go. Of those who plan to stay at their jobs, the top reasons they did not want to leave included: liking the people they work with (54%), having a good work/life balance (50%), being satisfied with the benefits package (49%), and feeling happy with their salary (43%). Of those who are unhappy, however, 58% said they plan to leave in the next year. Making sure these bases are covered is a strong step to keeping your top talent at their desks.

Check out the infographic below for more of LinkedIn’s insights into why employees leave, and what you lose when they go:

New Study Shows Scope of Workplace Bullying

In a new study, the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work and another 21% have witnessed it. Overall, 72% are aware that workplace bullying happens. Bullying was defined as either repeated mistreatment or “abusive conduct.” Only 4% of workers responded that they did not believe workplace bullying occurred.

The study found that 69% of the bullies were men and they targeted women 57% of the time. The 31% of bullies who are female, however, overwhelmingly bullied other women—68% compared to 32% who mistreated men in the workplace. Identifying the perpetrators also shed light on how corporate power dynamics play a role in abusive workplace behavior. The majority of bullying came from the top (56%), while only a third came from other coworkers.

“Sadly, what stops bullying the most is requiring the target to lose her or his job,” said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute. According to the survey, in 61% of cases, the bullying only stops when the target quits, is fired or forced out.

Employer reactions are failing employees—and may open many companies to costs from turnover or even legal liability:

Workplace bullying employer responses

Check out the infographic below for more insight into workplace bullying:

Workplace Bullying Survey