Sexual Harassment and the Bystander Effect
Simple bystander tools can help reduce workplace sexual harassment
History tells us that people sometimes fail to help in emergencies because they assume someone else will take care of it. Flash forward to a potential sexual harassment incident at your workplac. . . the same effect is in play. People tend to shy away from helping a victim of harassment because:
• I don’t need to get involved because someone else will do something
• It’s not my responsibility
• I don’t have the skills to intervene
• My coworkers will think I’m poking my nose into places I shouldn’t, OR
• I can’t get involved because I didn’t actually SEE harassment. All I know is my coworker is upset about something.
Well, things are changing. Thanks to the adoption of workplace sexual harassment training, companies are now liable for recognizing sexual harassment and requiring employees and managers to act and investigate claims.
Bystander intervention training, while not required by law, is a highly recommended method to reduce sexual harassment. While sexual harassment training focuses on seeing and reporting harassment, bystander programs strive to sensitize workers to the warning signs of sexual assault, like a man leading a young coworker into an isolated place, threats of demotion for a dinner date rejection or a coworker who is upset every time she leaves the supervisor’s office.
The benefits of getting bystanders involved are many:
• Bystander intervention helps increase a sense of personal responsibility or accountability, where everyone, not just victims, speak up.
• Bystander intervention lets others feel supported.
• Bystander intervention reduces hostile working conditions that can lower productivity, increase turnover and absenteeism.
How can an active bystander help?
• Notice an event
• Recognize there is a problem
• Take responsibility for acting
• Decide how to respond appropriately
What are some simple bystander tools to help reduce workplace sexual harassment?
• Saying something to the harasser, like “That joke wasn’t funny.” Or later on approaching them and saying “Were you aware of how you came across in that conversation?”
• Disrupting the situation, like loudly clearing your throat or dropping something on the floor in earshot of the harasser.
• Standing between the victim and harasser, not necessarily in a confrontational way, but just be there.
• Saying something to a coworker, like “Did you hear that?” or “Don’t you think that was inappropriate?”
• Talking to the victim. A few words of acknowledgement can go a long way: “I saw that. It wasn’t your fault. Are you okay?” If they are too upset, you could offer to accompany them to the human resources department.
An example a bystander in action
Sue is a conscientious bystander. When at work, she keeps her eyes and ears open to recognize actions or patterns of behaviors that might signal harassment, like someone saying inappropriate things, unwanted touching, etc. If there is a problem that needs action, she reminds herself that if she doesn’t act, the situation could get worse. Or, she pictures it happening to her family or friends. “Would I want someone to act?” Sue can use any of the tools above to get involved, comfort a coworker and/or report the incident herself.
Required California Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
A new California law requires all businesses of five or more employees to complete the SB1343 compliant training by January 1, 2020. Our sexual harassment prevention training can help prevent harassment and discrimination claims. Protect your company and employees. To find out more, visit our harassment prevention site today and start your courses.