- Seventy-nine percent of participants in a study conducted by Spot witnessed an incident of harassment or discrimination at work within the past five years — but 77% of those witnesses never reported the incident to HR, despite feeling that the incident was worth reporting.
- Of the witnesses who told others at work or told HR, 78% did not seek permission from the person who was being harassed or discriminated against, Spot said. This can create three potential problems, according to researchers: anonymity is jeopardized, trust may be further compromised and workplace culture can be damaged.
- The top five reasons respondents cited for not reporting incidents to HR were: being worried about the consequences (34%), not wanting to interfere (29%), not knowing that witnesses could report (22%), not wanting to be a snitch (18%) and not knowing how to report (16%).
The study's researchers encouraged organizations to educate employees. Speaking up is healthy, workers can help without interfering and they will not be seen as "snitches" when they report, researchers said. The report also noted that "there appears to be a lack of trust by witnesses in the reporting process itself and a major deficit in understanding how to report harassment and discrimination."
The Spot findings correspond to those uncovered in recent National Institutes of Health research. Of 15,000 surveyed workers (including employees, guest researchers, trainees and contractors), one-fifth had experienced sexual harassment over a 12-month period, but almost half did not report it.
Employees and witnesses can be reluctant for a number of reasons to come forward and report misconduct. Retaliation is a very valid concern; retaliation claims are common and often accompany other types of bias claims.
Managers should be trained to avoid retaliation against employees who bring complaints. Complainants, similarly, should be encouraged to come forward with their concerns and assured that they will not be retaliated against. Additionally, complaint reporting procedures should be both clear and effectively communicated to employees, possibly in an employee handbook.