Sexual harassment in the workplace has continued to attract a lot of attention lately- and not for the reasons some may think. Sexual harassment against men has been on the rise, and in the past year, a record number of sexual harassment reports have been made by men. This trend poses some new challenges for employers, as the types of harassment males face can differ from those faced by females. It’s important for employers to reevaluate company policies pertaining to sexual harassment to ensure they mitigate the risks surrounding any harassment that may be encountered by both male and female employees.
Some fail to respect the seriousness of male on male or female on male harassment in the workplace, however, it’s just as traumatic for men to deal with as it is for women.
Reasons for the Rise
There have been numerous ideas surrounding the reasons behind the increase in workplace sexual harassment towards males. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in 2009, 16% of the 12 696 sexual harassment incidents reported came from males. This is the largest number of sexual harassment related reports ever received by the EEOC from males. It remains unclear as to whether or not these numbers paint a clear picture of the reality of male sexual harassment in the workplace. Many feel that the number of cases reported to the EEOC is only a fraction of the actual number of incidents involving workplace sexual harassment towards males. Others suggest that male sexual harassment may not be increasing in the workplace, claiming it’s simply a matter of males becoming comfortable in bringing these issues forward. Either way, many companies still lack the proper controls to deal with male on male or female on male sexual harassment in the workplace.
According to some experts, the recession is to blame for the increasing number of male sexual harassment claims. The HR Management article “Male Sexual Harassment Claims on the Rise,” reports:
“The recession has had more of a negative impact on men than women. From September 2008 to January 2010, 4.4 million American men lost their jobs, compared to just 2.3 million women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. It has also been noted that the share of male sexual harassment claims rose more in the US, which had higher than average unemployment rates.
Greg Grant, an attorney with Shulman Rogers in Washington DC, believes that in the past, men would be more inclined to quit their job and find a new one if they were experiencing sexual harassment. Within the current economic climate, however, they are more likely to turn to the legal system. After all, points out Mr. Grant, these men still need to ‘pay the bills and support families’.”
Recommendations for Employers
Employers are responsible for providing their employees with a safe workplace, free of harassment- regardless of their gender. In order to address the issue of sexual harassment faced by males in the workplace, the article “When Men Are Harassed,” published by Workforce Management and written by Ron Chapman Jr., recommends that employers complete the following:
1. Policy Revision- Policies must remain current to the risks faced by an organization. Many policies only provide examples of male on female harassment. Elaborate on existing policies to include definitions and examples of male on male or female on male sexual harassment. This helps to communicate the message that all forms of sexual harassment are prohibited. The Workforce Management article also suggests that employers, “consider tightening restrictions on horseplay and other locker-room behavior in the workplace. Employees must understand the line between good-natured joking and unacceptable harassing behavior, as well as the consequences—sometimes severe—for crossing that line.”
2. Employee Training- Employers must provide employees with training related to male sexual harassment, as many employees have a difficult time understanding what types of behaviours are considered as ”crossing the line”. The Workforce Management article suggests that “well-trained employees will not only avoid such conduct, but are also more likely to recognize and report it when they see it happening around them.”
3. Reporting Systems- Employers must find new ways to encourage all employees to report instances involving sexual harassment. Both men and women tend to hesitate when it comes to reporting harassment, however, for men, reporting an act of sexual harassment can be difficult as they worry about the opinions of other men in the workplace. The Workforce Management article suggests that men “may be reluctant to come forward based on their fear of being labeled feminine, homosexual or oversensitive.” Whereas women usually tend to fear retaliation or physical violence for reporting sexual harassment.