Harassment and discrimination

Lower Your Organization’s Sexual Harassment Risk

When certain risk factors are present, the odds of your employees dealing with sexual harassment increases. Assess your risk factors.

If you want to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace, you might begin by assessing the underlying factors that contribute to harassment and then do what you can to change them.

In its comprehensive study, the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace identified organizational risk factors that increased the chance that sexual harassment would happen in a workplace.

10 Sexual Harassment Risk Factors

The following has been adapted from the task force’s report and examines 10 factors you need to be aware of and take action to mitigate.

1. Lack of Diversity

Majorities may feel threatened by those who they perceive to be different. Employees in the minority may feel isolated and vulnerable.

This behavior is easily remembered from our school days. Kids have an innate ability to identify the child who seems different from all the rest and then tease that child because of his or her perceived difference.

lack of diversity

Mitigation Strategy: Actively work to increase diversity throughout the organization, paying extra attention to departments and teams that are overly homogeneous.

2. Changing Gender Roles

People have strong opinions about who should do certain work and act out when traditions change. And yet we all know there are now very few jobs or tasks that are limited to only one gender. In addition, more people are now open about changes they are making to their gender identity.

changing gender roles

Mitigation Strategy: When hiring for open positions or making work assignments, focus on picking the people with the skills best suited for the role. Leave gender out of your decision making process.

3. Isolated Workers

When people work alone, harassers have easy access to their targets and no witnesses. Think about security officers, janitorial employees, and hotel housekeeping staff.

isolated workers have higher sexual harassment risk

Employers and governments are beginning to see that these employees face much higher sexual harassment risk. Washington state recently passed a law that provides protections for these workers.

Mitigation Strategy: Look for ways to restructure the work and schedules to minimize the amount of isolation. Also give employees ways to contact help if necessary. Panic buttons are one example of this.

4. Cultural/Language Differences

People who don’t speak English may not know their rights or their responsibilities. There may be cultural differences that lead to misunderstandings. It’s also possible some behavior is more acceptable in one culture than it is in another.

Mitigation Strategy: Make sure everyone, regardless of culture, understands the laws and your policies with regard to harassment.

5. Monotonous Work

Harassing behavior may be a coping mechanism for people who feel bored and want some excitement.

bored employees more likely to sexually harass coworkers

Mitigation Strategy: Vary duties and do what you can to make work more engaging. It’s a double win. Your employees will likely be more productive and less inclined to seek out inappropriate outlets for their boredom and frustration.

6. Rely on Customer Satisfaction

When compensation depends on happy clients, people put up with more inappropriate behaviors. That puts employees working for tips or sales people at higher sexual harassment risk.

Even though they may find a customer’s conduct abusive or harassing, they are less likely to say something out of fear they won’t be tipped or get the sale.

tipped workers

Mitigation Strategy: The customer is not always right. You have to make it easy for your employees to seek help and when they do, find ways to keep them from being financially hurt by speaking up.

7. Power Disparities

Strong hierarchies and authoritarian control often means poor treatment of low ranking employees.

Power disparities can lead to sexual harassment

Mitigation Strategy: Apply workplace rules uniformly, regardless of rank or value to the employer. Nobody is above the rules.

8. Superstars

High performers may see themselves as immune from the rules because of their economic impact. Executives, sales people who bring in a lot of revenue, or an engineer with many patents would all be examples of people who may think nobody will hold them accountable.


Mitigation Strategy: Use the same strategy as you did with powerful people. Apply the rules uniformly. If you do have to fire someone who fits this profile for their inappropriate conduct, consider making the reason for the dismissal known to others.

9. Young Workforce

Young people face higher sexual harassment risk due to lack of confidence and maturity. They are also more likely to harass others because they are less aware of laws and workplace norms.

young workers experience more sexual harassment

Mitigation Strategy: Make harassment prevention training part of your onboarding process. Provide extensive training to newly promoted supervisors who are still early in their careers.

10. Alcohol

When alcohol is consumed in the workplace, inhibitions and judgment are negatively impacted. In other words, people say and do dumb things when they are under the influence.

alcohol impact on sexual harassment

Mitigation Strategy: Decrease alcohol’s role in company social functions. When alcohol is present, monitor the situation carefully. If customers or employees begin to behave inappropriately due over-consumption of alcohol, intervene immediately before things have a chance to swirl out of control

Reduce Sexual Harassment Risk By Providing Training

If training is part of your sexual harassment risk mitigation strategy, we can provide you with both in-person and e-learning sexual harassment training options.

We’d appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about how we can help. Let’s schedule a quick call to discuss your needs.

Before our call, you might want to read the Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Implementation Guide for HR Managers. It contains answers to many of the questions you may have about launching a new initiative. You can also download a copy in PDF format.

Sexual harassment training guide

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce is a speaker, consultant, writer, facilitator and coach. Since 1996 he's helped workplace teams improve performance.