Last month, the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace issued a report. Among other things, it identified risk factors that can lead to harassment. They are:
- Homogeneous workforces – In other words, those that lack diversity.
- Workplaces where some workers don’t conform to workplace norms – This would include, for example, a man who’s perceived as overly feminine or a woman perceived as overly masculine.
- Workplaces with cultural and language differences – So too much homogeneity can be a problem, but so can too much diversity. Got it!
- “Coarsened Social Discourse Outside of the Workplace” – If people are crude outside of work, it’s more likely to spill over to the work environment.
- Workplaces with many young workers – According to the EEOC, young people are less aware of the laws and workplace norms. This makes them more likely to cross the line themselves and more likely to accept behavior that older workers know is over the line.
- Workplaces with large power disparities – The workers with less power are more vulnerable and the higher power ones “may feel emboldened to exploit them.”
- Workplaces that rely on customer service or client satisfaction – The key here is whether compensation is tied to customer satisfaction. If so, employees may be willing to put up with inappropriate conduct since it costs them money to object.
- Places where the work is monotonous or easy – “Idle hands …”, you know?
- Isolated workplaces – Fewer people around means fewer witnesses.
- Workplace cultures that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption – Let’s all drink to that!
- Decentralized workplaces – If senior management is far away, lower levels of management may feel less accountable.
So the answer is simple. To minimize the risk of harassment claims you need to make sure that your workforce is diverse, but not too diverse; that everyone conforms to the same norms; that people behave appropriately even when they’re not at work; that you don’t hire those pesky young people; that you eliminate hierarchies; that you stop paying attention to customer service; that you make all the work interesting; that you have everyone work at one location; and that you discourage drinking.
If you’re not able to run your business that way, we’ve identified 6 questions employers should ask before receiving a harassment complaint.