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Sexual harassment policies may be counterproductive

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri indicates that how employees interpret sexual harassment policies could be counterproductive. This may be surprising for New York workers and employers because nearly every organization has one of these policies and many of them offer training to prevent harassment.

For the study, the researchers talked to female and male workers at a federal government about sexual harassment policies to assess the impact. The lead author says that the participants interpreted the policies in a way that created fear despite the policies stating that it was important to build a culture of respect and dignity. This fear was of disgruntled workers using sexual harassment as a weapon and of their cordial behavior being misinterpreted. The participants were also afraid that innocent actions would offend more sensitive workers.

The research found that the workers were shocked about the control that accusers of harassment gain under the policies. This left male employees reluctant to mingle with female employees. The lead author noted that this fear discourages the camaraderie that the workers thought results from normal sexual banter, jokes and behavior. However, the policies did not state anything to specifically bring about the fear.

Additionally, many sexually harassed participants said that they were afraid to report the behavior. Many believed that the victims often suffer as much as the harassers. They think a range of factors from being labeled as accusers to the emotional, time-consuming investigation does not make the behavior worth reporting.

It is important for workers to review the sexual harassment policies of their organizations and to ask their human resources departments or superiors to clarify any wording that they believe to be confusing or unclear. If they find themselves being subject to a hostile working environment, they may want to discuss their situation with an employment law attorney.

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