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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has identified four risk factors for workplace sexual harassment and suggested strategies for responding to them:

#1 Risk factor - Employees do not conform to workplace civility norms

Why it’s risky: This risk factor is indicated by what the EEOC calls a “rough and tumble” workplace culture, usually dominated by employees of a single sex. Crude, raunchy, or demeaning remarks, jokes, or banter are common. Abusive remarks or humor may promote workplace norms that devalue certain types of individuals. Some employees may be singled out and viewed as weak and are susceptible to abuse.

Prevention strategy:

  • Proactively and intentionally create a culture of civility and respect with the involvement of the highest levels of leadership.
  • Pay attention to relations among and within work groups.

#2 Risk factor - Teen and young adult employees

Why it’s risky: Employees in their first or second jobs may be less aware of laws and workplace norms. Young employees may lack the self-confidence to resist unwelcome overtures or challenge conduct that makes them uncomfortable and might be more susceptible to being taken advantage of by coworkers or superiors, particularly those who may be older and more established in their positions. Young employees might also be more likely to engage in harassment because they lack the maturity to understand or care about consequences.

Prevention strategy:

  • Provide orientation to all new employees with emphasis on the employer's desire to hear about all complaints of unwelcome conduct.
  • Provide training on how to be a good supervisor when youth are promoted to supervisory positions.

#3 Risk factor - Isolated workplaces

Why it’s risky: Employees work alone or have few opportunities to interact with others, giving harassers easy access to their targets. Often there are no witnesses when harassment occurs.

Prevention strategy:

  • Consider restructuring work environments and schedules to eliminate isolated conditions.
  • Ensure that workers in isolated work environments understand complaint procedures.
  • Create opportunities for isolated workers to connect with each other (e.g., in person, online) to share concerns.

#4 Risk factor - Decentralized workplaces

Why it’s risky: Because corporate offices are far removed physically and/or organizationally from front-line employees or first-line supervisors, managers may feel (or may actually be) unaccountable for their behavior and may act outside the bounds of workplace rules. Managers may be unaware of how to address harassment issues and may be reluctant to call headquarters for direction.

Prevention strategy:

  • Ensure that compliance training reaches all levels of the organization, regardless of how geographically dispersed workplaces may be.
  • Ensure that compliance training for area managers includes their responsibility for sites under their jurisdiction • Develop systems for employees in geographically diverse locations to connect and communicate.