Identifying & Preventing Workplace Harassment

As much as we wish everyone was open-minded and accepting, the reality is that some people are not. Unfortunately, in your business, you could find yourself with an employee who acts in an inappropriate manner, whether blatantly or jokingly. Harassment in your workplace, whether it’s based on gender, race, or personal beliefs, can create a hostile work environment. As a business owner, you have a lot to lose if you do not identify, remove, and prevent harassment in your workplace. Employees who are harassed will not want to come to work, their productivity levels will go down, some will leave, and worst of all, you could end up facing liability lawsuits.

There are two major steps you need to take in order to be prepared for the possibility of harassment in your workplace. You need to take appropriate measures to prevent it: know what kinds of harassment can happen in your workplace, address the subject with your employees, and make sure to quickly step in and support employees who experience harassment. You also need to make sure that your business is protected with the right insurance policy in the event that workplace harassment does occur.

Protecting Your Business

silhouettes of a person in a suit in front of a board with people sitting down in front of him
To get ahead of harassment in your business, conduct training on a regular basis and get insured.

 

Let’s first look at getting the right insurance to protect your business. There are different types of commercial insurance that can protect your business in the event of a lawsuit due to workplace harassment. In some cases, a general liability policy will cover workplace harassment claims; it can provide coverage for claims alleging personal injury and defamation. However, allegations of unfair or discriminatory employment practices are not covered by general liability policies. This includes claims related to hiring and termination, demotion, reassignment, employee evaluations, discipline, and sexual harassment. So, if an employee says that they were treated unfairly or that you acted illegally, a general liability policy will not usually protect you.

What will offer more protection is an Employment Practices Liability (EPL) insurance policy. Most policies cover claims made by employees of:

  • Harassment
  • Wrongful termination
  • Discrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Wrongful discipline
  • Wrongful failure to promote

In some cases, policies can provide coverage for additional employment-related claims, including defamation. EPL insurance can also protect you against claims made by vendors or customers.

Finding the right liability coverage for your business is very important, but you also need to be vigilant about the types of harassment that could be happening in your workplace. These incidences happen more than you might think. 

What Is Considered Harassment?

Harassment is defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. It can be physical or verbal, via email, phone, or in person. If any of the following types of harassment occur and it escalates to the point that an employee feels intimidated, threatened, or scared (it creates a “hostile work environment” for the employee, as described by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), this can result in a lawsuit. Once an employee brings any type of harassment to your attention, you must take action. If you continue to ignore the situation, you could be sued.

Sexual Harassmentcaucasian woman with glasses on looking at a male's hand on her shoulder

This type of harassment makes up about half of all harassment cases that occur in the workplace. Sexual advances, inappropriate behavior, or unwanted physical contact in the workplace happen far more often than they should. Statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) show that approximately 30% of employees reported being sexually harassed in the workplace, and 81% of those who said they were harassed were women. Furthermore, sexual harassment charges resulted in $46.3 million in payouts for the victims in these sexual harassment cases.

Racial Discrimination 

Racial tensions are running high in America, and racial discrimination unfortunately still happens in the workplace. There are people who feel that it is acceptable to voice their opinions in the workplace, and make remarks to someone based on  their race, color, or country of origin. It can start out as something as small as a joke, and then build up into a more intense and demeaning form of harassment such as racial slurs, which would create a hostile work environment. Research has shown that younger workers and ethnic minorities are the most frequent targets of this kind of harassment. To address racial harassment, offer your employees impartial bias training. This type of training will help make them aware of the unintentional stereotypes that influence behavior, and will give tips on how to create a respectful work environment. 

Ageism

elderly caucasian hands typing on a keyboard.
Older workers have reported being discriminated against in the workplace.

This happens in almost every workplace, whether it is intentional or not. You might hear phrases like, “they’re too old for the job” or “maybe it’s time for them to retire because they’re getting old,” or even “they’re too old to understand technology, so they’re not right for this job.” In research conducted in 2019, 400 workers age 40 and over were surveyed, and almost half of them said that they had experienced age discrimination in the workplace. They were either belittled by their co-workers and bosses, their input was ignored, or they were subjected to age-related jokes.

Sexual Orientation Harassment

The LGBTQ+ community has fought hard to be recognized, and to gain even the simple legal rights that everyone else has. But, unfortunately, people who don’t understand the community, the different sexual orientations, and don’t recognize pronoun choices, could make jokes or say something inappropriate. In a survey, it was found that at least 1 in 5 LGBT people surveyed reported that they had experienced discrimination when applying for jobs because they were LGBT. In addition, in a 2018 survey, over half of all LGBTQ employees reported hearing lesbian and gay jokes at work, while 37% heard bisexual jokes, and 41% heard transgender jokes. LGBTQ people of color are more likely to experience this type of discrimination than white LGBTQ people.  Because of all of this, over half of the community have reported that they remain closeted at work. 

Religious Beliefs Harassment

young asian woman with a hijab around her hair and neck
As an employer, you must accommodate employee’s religion as long as it doesn’t cause undue hardship/

As the saying goes, never talk politics or religion – all it does is cause conflict between people. This is especially true in the workplace, where you are bound to have employees with conflicting religious beliefs. In 2018, 2,859 religious discrimination charges were filed, according to EEOC data. These claims stemmed from harassment based on religion, segregation from other employees, and failure of employers to be reasonably accommodative. As long as it does not cause undue hardship to their business, employers are required by law to reasonably accommodate employees’ religion. You can do this by allowing:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Voluntary shift swaps with other employees
  • Job reassignments
  • Exceptions to dress or grooming rules

Preventing Harassment

As a business owner, you want to make sure your employees feel safe and protected. Ignoring any form of harassment, whether you can be sued for it or not, will at best leave you with unhappy employees. But you should know that ignoring a joke here or a comment there can also be an expensive mistake, as it can lead to a hostile work environment and a lawsuit. To foster a more positive work environment, and to make clear what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t, you should:

  • Create a clear policy that addresses all types of harassment
  • Develop a training session with HR 
  • Act immediately to investigate complaints of harassment
  • Regularly review the anti-harassment policy with employees

All businesses are responsible for preventing any harassment in the workplace. If it does happen, you have to address it quickly and fairly. Leaving the situation unresolved could lead to lawsuits from current or former employees. Consistently conduct workplace harassment training so all of your employees are aware of what not to do, and the consequences if they do cross the line. 

To compare commercial insurance plans that will fully protect your business from any unforeseen harassment lawsuits, connect with an EZ agent. We will research all the policies that your business  needs, and review any current commercial insurance policies you have to make sure they are right for your business. To get started, enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to an agent, call 888-615-4893.

“I Didn’t Care Until I Had A Daughter” How R. Kelly Got Away With It

Plastered all over the media right now is the R. Kelly docu-series featuring the stories of victims coming forward to talk about the sexual, emotional, and physical abuse perpetrated by R. Kelly. But why is this a big deal now? We experienced the same allegations in the early 2000’s when he went to trial for child pornography charges for the famous sex tape of him with an underage girl, “allegedly.” Could it be that we did not really care about what

R. Kelly has gotten away with years of abuse towards young and underage women, but how?
R. Kelly has gotten away with years of abuse towards young and underage women, but how?

happened until the generation that went through it grew up and had kids of our own? This is the case for me. I did not put any of the allegations into perspective until I had a daughter of my own. When the trial was happening, I did not think twice about it, and now that this is all resurfacing while I have a daughter, it enrages me. A lot of people are questioning why care now? Why is this a big deal now and not before?

It is easier to sit back and judge the situation when you do not have to think about experiencing it. These young girls thought they were doing this because they had to, because they were impressionable. They saw this celebrity that they admired and thought “if I don’t do this, he won’t like me.” R. Kelly took advantage of them. He abused his celebrity power to extort these girls.

Time and time again, especially when it comes to people in power, socuety will blame the victim.
Time and time again, especially when it comes to people in power, society will blame the victim.

Are We The Issue?

Unfortunately these acts of manipulation don’t end with R. Kelly, instead we see politicians, religious figures, people of power and great influences able to continuously escape persecution, and suspicion in our society. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Jody Adewale states “Our society tends to compartmentalize the things we don’t want to look at it, and magnifies and glorifies the things that we do. For example, if an individual is providing something to the society such as music, cinema, and politics, then we are more likely to compartmentalize the negative behavior and minimize it as a way of accepting what they are contributing.”

People have blamed the victims, calling them “fast,” and assume that it is somehow their fault. One of R. Kelly’s victims, Asante McGee stated in the docu-series, “We are not blaming R. Kelly for what he’s doing, instead we are blaming each other. When you have fans like myself, when I was that fan- the die hard fan, I just felt like ‘oh these girls are lying.’”

I interviewed Jennifer Poehler, MSW, LSW, previous mental health clinician who conducted a court ordered sex offender therapy group, and current director of Victim Services at the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office in PA, about victims and their abusers. When I asked why these victims do not come forward, she stated “they are afraid that their abuser will harm them again. They do not want to make a very private matter public, are worried that they will be blamed for what happened or not believed, feel ashamed, guilty and/or embarrassed.”

Now that I have a daughter of my own, I have a deeper connection to the stories, and it angers, and disgusts, me more than it would have if I did not have children of my own.. How can we as a community be so reckless and lack empathy? I can not believe the things that R. Kelly did to these girls, and continues to do. These kids were robbed of their innocence. I am not saying that I did not care before, but that I am more aware of how much it happens, and how much it hurts the family. When I became a parent, I naturally grew protective of the well being of my own children. This heightened my sense of unjust and frustration of both our criminal system and our social structures.

When I worked in a jail, sex offenders never bothered me. Then I had my daughter, and everything changed. I became more aware of their crimes and their lack of empathy. Grew more protective.
Sex offenders never bothered me. Then I had my daughter, and everything changed. 

When I used to work in a jail, I used to deal with sex offenders and pedophiles all the time. The severity of their crimes never really bothered me. Everyone has some sort of criminal they don’t like, whether murderers, drug addicts who say it wasn’t their fault with excuses and go in and out of the jail like a revolving door, thiefs, or sex offenders. When I was pregnant with my daughter, i paid close attention to the sex offenders and their crimes. I grew extremely disgusted and wanted nothing to do with them. What was worse was the smug attitude that they had, with most saying they either didn’t do it, or “it was consensual.” As if a child could consent to something, especially after being groomed by these predators. I grew protective of the kids that these predators molested and abused. Before having children, they were just normal people like everyone else in the jail who committed a crime. But after kids, I viewed them as scum. Who would look at a kid and want to do anything like that to them? They are the most innocent and pure creatures on the planet, I couldn’t understand. I mean I knew sex offenders and predators existed, and I just thought “that’s weird.” After having a child of my own, my view on them has completely changed to “what a horrible monster!”

What About The Parents?

Everyone asks about the whereabouts of these girl’s parents. As the docu-series shows, some of these parents are still fighting for their daughters. Some fighting for justice for their daughters and what they endured, while others fighting to get their daughters,who are locked away in Kelly’s house, back. However, the  majority of these girls were lying to their parents, telling them they were at a friends house, or their parents were working multiple jobs to support their family.

The reason a lot of these predators get away with it, is not just society turning a blind eye, or victims being afraid to come forward. These predators have no sense of empathy, and to some they continue to abuse because they think they are invincible. They scare and abuse their victims into silence, and for some, like R. Kelly who have gotten away with it for so long, feel like they will never get caught. They continue to abuse and take it a step further over time. When I asked in Ms. Poehler’s experience if the predators are remorseful, she replied “Although the majority of sexual related crimes are resolved via plea agreement in criminal courts, which gives survivors the guarantee of a conviction, abusers are unlikely to show signs of empathetic remorse. They often exhibit co-occurring disorders such as sociopathy, narcissism and other anti-social personality traits. This means they possess little to no empathy.”

Most of the time a victim will not say anything because they are afraid of their abuser.
Most of the time a victim will not say anything because they are afraid of their abuser.

I asked Jennifer Poehler the same question everyone’s been asking about the parents and what they can do to help. She stated “Children are more likely to disclose abuse if they are living with supportive caretakers. Most victims know their abusers, may live with their abusers, and may be experiencing other forms of violence in the home. If children have at least one trusted and safe adult to whom they can disclose, there is an increased likelihood of the abuse being revealed. If children are being threatened with violence by their abuser and/or are being groomed for sexual activity, the signs may not be immediately apparent to other adults in the home. Remember that predators are just that; they wait for opportune moments where they can be alone with their victims. Parents should take notice of warning signs, including changes in mood, appetite and hygiene, inappropriate sexualized behavior, poor school performance, aversion to physical touch, self-injurious behavior, and physical signs of abuse such as injury to genital areas (the genitals tend to heal quickly, so physical findings are not always evident).”

As the founder of #MeToo, Tarana Burke stated, “The way that we as a society talk about and think about sexual violence, a lot of times, it puts the owness on the victim. People are brainwashed into thinking that they have complicity in their own abuse, and so they don’t come forward because of the deep shame, the fear of being ostracized in their community. There are all these different factors that allow people to stay silent.” The reality is that when some children decide to speak up and tell their parents about the abuse, their parents are in denial. The parents feel like they failed their kids, and failed at protecting them, so they choose to not accept it. They do not want to believe they allowed this to happen to their kid, and never saw the signs. No one wants to believe that it could happen to their kid, but it does. What is worse is that these young boys and girls are afraid to come forward. We need to constantly talk to our children about the meaning of consent, sex, and to speak up if they feel uncomfortable or have been violated.

Society tends to shame the victim of a sexual abuse case.
Society tends to shame the victim of a sexual abuse case. They will claim the victim is lying or seeking something. Victims are less likely to come forward because of this.

Creating Hostility & Distrust

Dr. Jody Adewale states “people who stand up and say ‘I’ve been victimized, I’ve been sexually abused,’ we as a society tend to beat it with skepticism, because there have been cases where people have lied.” So when the girls who did come forward were shamed and not believed. Why would any other girls want to come forward, only to endure such hate and shame towards them?

What is most hurtful about all of this is that young kids who are being abused by their uncle, family member, or close friend of the family are afraid to come forward. They watch these girls who were abused by R. Kelly be shamed and think “if they ridicule these girls and don’t believe them, who is going to believe me?” They are less likely to come forward when society victim shames the girls who did endure such abuse.

Cofounder of #MuteRKelly Oronike Odeleye stated “You have this powerful person that is beloved in the African American community, and then you have a victim that nobody cares about. The greater society perpetuates stereotypes about black women that internally you start to believe. We will believe it if it’s a convenient excuse not to have to deal with the reality of R. Kelly and how we have been supporting and enabling him for decades.” This not only happens with R. Kelly, but other people of power such as the priests of the Catholic church, and Larry Nassar, the gymnastics national team physician, who were molesting young kids. “Unfortunately, in the case of the Catholic Church or the organizations that employed the gymnastics physician Dr. Larry Nassar, and Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky, there was an institutional directive to ignore the abuse, shield the abuser, and disenfranchise the victims. The power and prestige of maintaining the image of these institutions outweighed their duty to keep the public safe from the predators they protected,” stated Jennifer Poehler.

So Why Now?

As a mother, I became more aware of the things happening and take it all into perspective. I see these predators for what they are- monsters. I began to empathize more with the victims, not because I cared any less before, but because I worry more now that I have a child of my own. I began to fear what could happen to my kids. It affected me more. The same goes for these victims who endured abuse by these predators. These young girls were 14-18 years old that were abused by R. Kelly. They were young impressionable girls who thought this was in some sense normal. It started with R. Kelly taking interest in them, to then slowly controlling them to the point they had to knock on doors before entering, asking to eat and use the bathroom, and even making them have sex with other people. For some, he took their virginity, and they were not experienced sexually. They thought this is what they had to do.

These victims are now adults with children of their own. They grew to be more aware, and are able to speak about what happened. Having children of their own, realizing it was all not okay, and doing what they have to do to protect their kids from ever going through it is their drive. They now have their own reasons for coming forward that are bigger than just their stories, it is about protecting future generations from the same fate.  They want to talk about the abuse, explain what to look for so the predators can not do it anymore to anyone else, and for young girls to hear these stories and know they are not alone. Victims speak up because want others to know the signs, to say no, to walk away, and to come forward to get the help they need.

Thanks to the movement #MeToo, women and victims feel more empowerd to come forward
Thanks to the movement #MeToo, women and victims feel more empowerd to come forward, talk about their stories, raise awareness, and seek justice.

Poehler states “Now more than ever, there is greater societal attention focused on believing sexual violence and abuse survivors. These survivors are finding each other and supporting each other in making sure we hear their stories. There is strength in numbers and we see that in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Society is becoming more tuned into the issues surrounding consent, domestic violence, and sexual violence. More states are adapting mandated reporter requirements, which leads to an increase of reporting child abuse and neglect. We have a very long way to go before these issues fully receive the urgent attention they are due, but progress is measured in how often we believe survivors when they disclose. Sexual violence is vastly underreported and rarely falsely reported. Survivors have much to lose and little to gain when they take their stories public, such as the cases of Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford.” These two women were the survivors who spoke out against the then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Thanks to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it has given women the ability to speak up without fear. The ability to empower women to talk without shame, and more importantly with support.

Hearing how these girls were violated and abused left me feeling powerless and heartbroken. I think that is important for everyone to listen to the victim’s stories. Hear them, empathize with them, and encourage them to talk about it. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to what these predators are doing, and brush it off. The victims deserve more than that, especially after what they endured. The victims at least deserve our respect, our voice, and our sympathy. It makes me proud to see the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements embrace the victims, and help them not only speak out, but seek justice. I think everyone should do the same for these victims, and most importantly to listen to them and at least try to understand what they went through.

If you or someone you know is being sexually abused, speak up. It is the first process for healing, and for justice. As for parents, it is extremely important to speak to your children about sexual education. Talk to them about their private parts, the meaning of consent, and build a strong relationship with them. This way we can provide them the knowledge necessary to protect and empower them.