Workplace harassment happens in many U.S. workplaces, but most employees who witness or experience such misconduct do not report it to HR.
In a survey of over 2,000 employees by HR Acuity, more than half of respondents experienced or witnessed inappropriate or illegal incidents at work in 2023. The most prevalent issues included bullying, sexual harassment, racism, and harassment related to age, gender or sexual orientation.
Only 58 percent of employees who experienced or witnessed inappropriate behavior reported the incident to their employers.
How workplace harassment and misconduct is handled has far-reaching implications to an
organization. Not only does the level of trust impact how likely employees are to report issues, but it also impacts whether or not they stay with the organization and refer people within their networks to work there.
When employees do report an issue, they typically turn to a manager (61 percent) or to HR (48 percent). A small portion (18 percent) go to senior leadership. Those who experience or witness an issue are less likely to recommend their employer:
- If a workplace issue was experienced, only 22 percent of employees would recommend their organization.
- The referral rate jumped to 42 percent among employees whose issues were reported and investigated—exceeding the rate for employees who never experienced a problem.
- If the issue was resolved, 56 percent would recommend the organization.
Slightly more than half of reported incidents (58 percent) result in an investigation. About 21 percent of employees didn’t know if an investigation was conducted, suggesting an opportunity for improved follow-up and communication.
Offering an anonymous reporting option correlated to a higher likelihood that employees will report workplace misconduct, according to the study:
- Among employees who know their employer offers a way to report anonymously, 70 percent reported an incident experienced or observed at work.
- When anonymous reporting tools were not available, only 49 percent of employees reported an incident.
- Among employees who do not report an incident of harassment or misconduct, 64 percent are more likely to report if an anonymous option is available to them.
Linda Harris, Licensed Private Investigator, and head of workplace investigations at JorgensenHR, said “a strong reporting system in which workers feel comfortable disclosing workplace improprieties can”:
- Ensure employees are aware that misconduct is taken seriously.
- Hold violators accountable for their actions.
- Create a safe environment where employees are protected from retaliation for reporting inappropriate behaviors.
- Help encourage employees to report misconduct.
- Foster a culture of trust for employees to feel safe and respected.
“The company may face legal and financial issues if an employee experiences misconduct and the company does not take steps to prevent or address it,” she said. “Your organization may have policies in place, but without an understanding of the proper steps to report it, the misconduct may continue and the employees may feel like they have no recourse.”
Linda further stated “that companies should educate the workforce during the onboarding process on how to report misconduct. Employees should also be able to access these steps, via written polices or employee handbook at any time to refresh themselves with the process. Updating the workforce on how to report inappropriate behaviors can help support their mental wellbeing, boost organizational retention, motivation, and accountability.”
JorgensenHR conducts numerous workplace investigations annually and has a harassment hotline, “We Want to Know Hotline”. If you want further information on the hotline, harassment prevention training or workplace investigations, please contact us at email@example.com or 661-600-2070.