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Fear of retaliation often keeps sexual harassment victims quiet

It has long been believed that workers in California and around the country are often reluctant to speak up about sexual harassment because they fear retaliation or do not know that their employers have anti-harassment policies in place. A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management seems to support these views. The Virginia-based organization found that more than three quarters of the management employees they polled who said that they had experienced some sort of sexual harassment did not step forward because they anticipated sanctions or believed that nothing would change.

These findings are in line with previous research conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Council, and managers in human resources departments seem to be more aware of the problem than those who fill non-supervisory roles. Most employers now have policies in place to address sexual harassment in the workplace, but the SHRM discovered that less than a quarter of non-management HR workers knew about them.

These policies are usually covered at length during the orientation period for new employees and then discussed only during annual or biannual training, according to the SHRM study. However, corporate attitudes seem to be evolving as 62 percent of the HR workers surveyed said that their organizations were reevaluating their sexual harassment policies and workplace environments to better identify areas of concern and address the issues uncovered.

Attorneys with experience in workplace discrimination can work with clients who put off taking action because they feared losing their jobs or being reprimanded. Such lawyers may encourage companies to settle sexual harassment lawsuits quickly to avoid tarnishing their brands and losing loyal customers. They could also remind employers of the sanctions that could result from violating state and federal civil rights laws.