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Report: Workers who witness harassment rarely speak up

On average, more than 12,000 charges of sexual harassment are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year.

This is a significant percentage of all employment claims filed, however, this number likely does not reflect reality. The actual number of cases is almost certainly higher, as many people who experience sexual harassment – as well as those who witness it – do not report these incidents.

Studies find most witnesses do not report to Human Resources

Whether it is a case of sexual harassment or racial discrimination, several studies have found that workers who witness unjust and inappropriate behavior in the workplace often do not report it. One 2019 study found that of the employees surveyed who witnessed harassment or discrimination:

  • 67% told family or friends about it;
  • 46% told other colleagues about it; but
  • 77% did not report it to Human Resources.

Even if these individuals knew the behavior was wrong, they still did not report it.

Why is this happening?

There are many reasons why those who witness harassment or discrimination in the workplace might not speak up, including, but not limited to:

  • They fear retaliation or other consequences;
  • They do not think it is their place to interfere; or
  • They did not know how to report what they witnessed, or that they could report it at all.

All of these reasons are understandable. After all, retaliation remains the most common charge filed with the EEOC each year. But any form of harassment is against the law and violates all employees’ rights.

The failure to report harassment can lead to a negative work environment for all

While some workplace policies might encourage employees to report unfair behavior they see in the workplace, the reality could be very different.

It is understandable why many workers might not report the incidents of harassment they witness to HR, but it is important to do so. Even if you are not the target, persistent and pervasive harassment or discrimination often creates a hostile work environment that can impact all workers – including witnesses.

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