Top 4 Workplace Harassment Trends

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Though sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of workplace discrimination, the trends employers are seeing in harassment claims are anything but typical.  To stay ahead of the curve, employers need to keep themselves up-to-date on the four latest workplace trends impacting harassment claims:

1. Technology Innovations

As IM, e-mail, text messaging, and social media interactions have become part of standard communications, it is easier than ever for people to lower their inhibitions, slip up and create a permanent electronic trail documenting everything from explicit workplace affairs to clear evidence of sexual , racial, and religious harassment. When employees are not aware of the lack of privacy in their communications, the results can be disastrous.

What Can Employers Do?

Update their policies to address the latest wave of technical innovations, including high-powered smartphones, blogging, Twitting (microblogging) and social networking.

But, employers cannot rely solely on written policies when it comes to managing technology in the workplace. Training is essential to bring the rules and guidelines to life.

2. The Growing Number of Contingent Workers

As employers respond to our turbulent economy, contingent (temporary) workers could soon account for 30-50 percent of the US workforce. Contingent workers can create the same (if not more) legal risk as their permanent counterparts.

Contingent workers are rarely trained on company policies regarding issues like sexual harassment and how to report a complaint. But, according to a recent study by the University of Melbourne, contingent workers are 5 times more likely to be subjected to unwanted sexual advances, and 10 times more likely to be sexually harassed in their temporary workplace. This can leave their host employer liable for increased sexual harassment claims. Contingent workers can also be the perpetrators of very risky and very costly harassing behavior.

What Can Employers Do?

Make sure they update their harassment and discrimination policies to cover all workers, even temporary ones. These policies also need to protect against retaliation and discrimination for workers who do report suspected wrong doing.

And everyone, including contingent workers, needs to be trained on these policies and how to report misconduct. Sexual harassment training is a proactive step to ensure an ethical workplace for all workers, whether official "employees" or not.

3. The Immigration Debate

The recent passage of Arizona's controversial immigration law has triggered fevered debate that's sure to trickle into the workplace. This hot-button issue is likely to spark inappropriate, offensive and highly risky conversations centering on national origin, ethnicity and race. Though these conversations are often confined to the break room and "off the clock," it doesn't mean employees won't feel harassed or offended - or that employers aren't facing increased risk for hostile environment claims. As the immigration debate is still heating up in Congress, employers can be sure it will continue to impact their workplace.

What Can Employers Do?

Employers need to educate employees about where the boundaries lie when it comes to acceptable behavior and speech. Many employees feel deeply protective of their indelible "right" to express opinions and engage in conduct that can squarely violate workplace policies - and potentially the law.

Workplace harassment training can't change peoples' fundamental beliefs, but it certainly can (and should) make the basic rules about what people can say and do clear, and as importantly, clarify where employees should go for help if they witness or become the victim of inappropriate behavior.

4. The Rise in Male-on-Male Harassment

According to the EEOC, the number of sexual harassment claims filed by men has doubled between 1992 and 2008. The most common claims filed are by male victims that have been exposed to derogatory and offensive behavior by other males. The claims cited make the break room sound like a locker room -using power plays to demean and embarrass men through sexual horseplay.

With the stereotype of men being "tough," many people think nothing of this kind of inappropriate behavior. But as more men feel empowered to protect themselves from sexual harassment, employers can expect a subsequent rise in male-on-male sexual harassment claims.

What Can Employers Do?

The same way employers wouldn't ignore a woman's sexual harassment claim, they just can't ignore a man's. This is another area where the rules aren't obvious. Most employees know "come-on-baby-you-know-you-want-it" harassment is inappropriate. Male break room antics often fall into the gray area of harassment.

To get through to employees on an issue many see as a joke, they need sophisticated sexual harassment training that is intelligent enough to tackle the tough issues and present them in a thought-provoking, impactful manner.

The Lesson?

Don't allow this kind of damage and distraction in your workplace - make rules about appropriate and inappropriate conduct clear, enforce them consistently, and make sure your entire workforce receives interactive and engaging sexual harassment training.