Employees should not have to suffer harassment in the workplace. In fact, it is illegal. There are both federal and state legal protections in place to safeguard against such behavior. Unfortunately, harassment in the workplace is far too common despite the laws geared at preventing it from persisting in U.S. workplaces. Despite the high rates of harassment incidences in the workplace, harassment continues to be underreported. When people fail to report harassment, they may be left to suffer through the harassment at work or feel so uncomfortable that they leave the job altogether. Furthermore, unreported harassment risks the harasser from continuing to engage in such inappropriate behavior and go on to victimize others.
Why Employees Fail to Report Harassment in the Workplace
Workplace harassment is in violation of both federal and state laws. Those who are victims of harassment at work may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to take a step towards preventing the harassing behavior from continuing. Should the employer fail to remedy the harassment, the victim of the harassment may be able to file suit against the employer for damages. With these options available, however, you may be confused as to why people fail to report harassment in the workplace. With harassment far from common, why aren’t more people reporting this inappropriate behavior?
One of the most common reasons why harassment goes unreported is for the simple reason that the victims of the harassing behavior do not know their rights. It is the responsibility of the employer to inform employees of rights to report sexual harassment as well as presenting the proper channels for reporting harassment pursuant to company policies. This, however, may not actually occur and leaves employees without the basic information they would need to report harassment in the workplace.
In other instances, a victim of harassment in the workplace may be aware that they could file a harassment claim, but do not think they have a valid case or may be unsure as to whether the behavior rises to the level that would merit filing a case. It is a common misunderstanding that behavior must be extreme or aggressive in order for it to substantiate a claim of harassment, but this is simply not the case. There is a spectrum of behavior that would constitute harassment in the legal sense of the term. Harassment may involve:
- Offensive jokes
- Use of slurs
Other times, an employee may fail to report harassment in the workplace because they are afraid of retaliatory actions taken by their employer. The law, however, protections against such retaliation. Employers cannot make adverse employer actions against an employee because they filed a harassment claim or aid the EEOC in a harassment investigation. A retaliatory action may include an employee being:
- Denied promotion
- Denied benefits
- Salary or wage penalties