Jennifer Oswald, founder of we.moxie, speaks about dealing with harassment in the workplace.

By Jennifer. Oswald, photo courtesy of we.moxie

“Harassment isn’t a problem. That could never happen at this company.” Why is this refrain still so common? Even as the issue is positioned firmly in the national spotlight, many business owners are still unprepared for and unaware of the risks associated with harassment.

An average harassment claim can cost a company anywhere from $75,000 to $125,000. For most business owners, that isn’t a line item on their profit-and-loss statement. It’s time to give this issue the attention it deserves.

Why are some workplaces a breeding ground for harassment?
  1. Power dynamics. Power dynamics can lead to harassment when employees have a mindset of “Keep your head down and do the job or risk getting fired.”
  2. Minimization. When harassment happens in the workplace, sometimes it can be written off as not a big deal or as just a joke.
  3. Disbelief. Victim blaming and disbelief continue to propel sexual harassment.
What does a company need in order to prevent harassment?

In order to prevent harassment, a company must have leadership that is committed to tackling harassment head-on, taking a proactive rather than a reactive approach. When employees bring forth issues, leadership must respond with empathy and respect, abandoning apathy, ignorance, laziness and pride. “This business doesn’t have that problem” is not an acceptable stance.

Hands-on, relevant training should be mandatory for all employees, with a separate training course for management. Training should be serious and easy to understand. Time’s up on cheesy sexual-harassment videos followed by a short quiz.

With the help of a professional, business owners should create, explain and implement harassment-reporting procedures, including how to report an incident, how to properly investigate it and how to follow up after a harassment report is made.

Lastly, the boss should not be the point person handling an employee’s harassment claim or investigation. That should be left to an unbiased, trained professional for two reasons: Most employers aren’t trained in human resources and aren’t trained in liability. That said, employers should hire a full-time HR professional or look to an HR consultant like we.moxie.

The time is now.

I’ve experienced at least 10 major harassment incidents throughout my career. Of those, I reported one. I’m a statistic. Before starting my own company, I worked in male-dominated industries and offices. In the face of harassment, I would usually stand up for myself in the moment but wouldn’t make an official report. The one time I did report harassment, I was dismissed with a casual “They were probably joking.” I wish I had done more to report or hold harassers accountable, but that’s part of why I’m so passionate about prevention now. I empathize with others who have similar stories, and I don’t want another employee to ever suffer from the same powerless experience.

I’m a business owner who wants to protect my employees and my business. In my line of work, I’ve seen businesses lose everything because they didn’t handle harassment seriously or effectively. Many of them were simply too naive to believe it would happen to them. Today, I’m an HR expert experienced in handling harassment claims, and I teach companies to prevent and handle claims empathetically and effectively. I’ve investigated incidents and counseled clients through them, and I want to see business owners educated about this issue so it can be eradicated.

Keep the conversation going.

  Based on current trends, there are only going to be more headlines, more stories and more revelations surrounding this issue. Now is the time for business owners to talk with an HR expert to develop an offensive strategy regarding harassment.


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