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Why are sexual harassment polices not effective?

A recent study done by the University of Missouri on how employees interpret sexual harassment policies sheds some light on why the policies are often not effective.

The researchers found that a company's policies can reshape or eliminate the actual meaning of the policies. This can lead to the company's values being contradicted when the employers try to enforce the policies.

One of the co-authors of the report, who is an organizational communication's professor and associate dean of research said, "Although the policy statement [might specify] the importance of building a culture of dignity and respect, the participants in the study reinterpreted the policy in such a way that they believed it actually created a culture of fear...Our findings suggest that the ways in which employees construct meaning around the policy can preclude the usage and effectiveness of the policy."

The author of "Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That's Dividing the Workplace" says something similar in her book. She believes that male managers and executives who are able to and want to help women advance are reluctant to discuss anything personal with them because they may fear that they will be breaking the policies and rules the company has on discrimination and sexual harassment.

Both the book and the MU study suggest that there may be secondary consequences to sexual harassment policies. The MU researcher said that companies need to discuss their policies about sexual harassment in a concise and clean manner. This will help ensure that every employee understands what sexual harassment is.

If you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment at work -- whether you are male or female -- you may have legal options. An experienced New York attorney can help you decide what your next step should be.

Source: HRE Daily, "More Sexual-Harassment-Policy Rethinking," Kristen Frasch, April 25, 2016

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