A lack of a solid definition of sexual harassment has impeded progress, study says
- The results from an update to an old study on sexual misconduct show that some progress has been made in arresting the problem, but that the lack of a unified definition for "sexual harassment" limits the workplace's ability to effectively curtail it. The initial study by James Campbell Quick, the John and Judy Goolsby-Jacqualyn A. Fouse Endowed chair at the University of Texas (UTA) at Arlington, was first published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology in 1998.
- M. Ann McFadyen, a UTA associate professor of strategic management, says that that the recent publicity on sexual harassment is a sign of the beginning of revolutionary change in the workplace, which demands a different kind of sexual misconduct training.
- Both McFadyen and Quick believe that a public heath perspective is needed to find out more about the aggressors' use of power in sexual harassment situations.
A lack of a cohesive definition of sexual harassment is only one part of a complex problem — but one that employers need to pay attention to. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that pay off accusers and protect the identity and culpability of the accused, for example, have prevented further progress. Pennsylvania state legislators have proposed a bill to ban sexual misconduct NDAs, hoping to curtail some of those actions.
Women and men who are or were targets of sexual misconduct by powerful, high-profile people have been reluctant to call out their abusers, but "#MeToo" is gaining traction as a strong voice for accusers to come forward. Time magazine recently named those who broke the silence as Time Person of the Year 2017.
HR can be an important first line of defense against sexual misconduct. Victims and witnesses of abuse should know how to use a reporting process that encourages filing complaints and removes any fear of retaliation through no-tolerance policies. HR has a duty to respond to and follow up on complaints and conduct an investigation, if necessary.