Concept Paper for "OnTheRecord": An Ending Workplace Sexual Harassment Proposal

Shaoming Zhu; Sara Jamshidi Zelenberg


1. Introduction


With the rise of the # MeToo movement, companies in the US and the rest of the world are trying to find new ways to end workplace sexual harassment. One major barrier is the fear victims feel of reporting. It is estimated by the EEOC that 90% of victims of workplace sexual harassment never take formal action. They also estimate that 75% of victims who report harassment face some kind of retaliation.


OnTheRecord proposed here provides a new model of reporting that reduces risks for victims and provides information for employers that seek to create and maintain a harassment-free environment. OnTheRecord is a third-party entity that gathers, maintains, and validates information about alleged instances sexual harassment in workplace environments. The service provides a digital space for victims to document and store instances of harassment (privately), connects alleged victims of the same harasser, educates victims about potential avenues to address issues of harassment, educates victims of relevant resources, and assists in filing complaints with employers.[1]


2. Mission


OnTheRecord seeks to reduce cases of sexual harassment in the workplace in three ways:


OnTheRecord provides victims a digital database, housed outside the company, to upload and digitally time-stamp reports of minor sexual harassment. This allows victims to document patterns of abuse without worrying about retaliation (OnTheRecord is a third-party service meant to support victims) or be concerned with over-reporting minor infractions (information on the database is only released to employers when consent is given).


With the permission of alleged victims, OnTheRecord will connect people who have been harassed by the same person but may not know it.


OnTheRecord provides an avenue for targeted advertising to companies that serve victims of sexual harassment.[2]


3. Problem Description / Introduction


Sexual harassment is a global epidemic. Cases of harassment are rampant in almost every industry, from Hollywood to the United Nations. In 2015 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 6,870 reports of workplace sexual harassment. From survey data, the EEOC estimates that 90% of of cases go unreported.


Reports are thought to be low largely because of fear of retaliation. Of those who have reported, an estimated 75% of employees have reported some level of retaliation from their workplace.

It is safe to say that our current system does not work. Given the cost of litigation, mediation, settlements, and high turnover (due to anguish), it is safe to estimate that the world economy has experienced losses in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, due to sexual harassment.


(1) The current system and procedure does not encourage victims to report or speak out.

One major barrier is the fear victims feel of reporting. It is estimated by the EEOC that 90% of victims of workplace sexual harassment never take formal action. They also estimate that 75% of victims who report harassment face some kind of retaliation.


Many victims choose to put the incident behind them rather than dealing with the backlash that might arise from reporting it. Some victims might also fear that reporting or exposing the incident could bring disproportionate damage the offender’s life. Relatedly, many victims feel that their case is too minor to justify a bitter fight with a powerful offender, which of course is an essential reason why the offender is able to continue his pattern in many cases.


(2) The existing solutions do not effectively eliminate the sources of sexual harassment.


(a) Many sexual harassers get away with it because their patterns are never revealed.

(b) Policy, training and education are not the effective ways to stop sexual harassment for employers, because it is difficult to track the effectiveness of the training and education.

(c) Legal action is also not the best way to stop sexual harassment for the general public or victims, because lawsuits are necessarily brought only after the harassment has already occurred.


(3) Employers are taking on too much costs, risks and responsibilities for/because of the alleged harassers.


(a) In the US, the burden of preventing sexual harassment rests on the employer. Employers have the responsibility to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are required by law to take steps to prevent and deal with harassment in the workplace. If the employer has not taken all reasonable steps to prevent and deal with harassment in the workplace, the employer may be liable for any harassment which does occur, even if unaware that the harassment was taking place.

(b) In addition, if an employee reports a claim of sexual harassment, the company or the institution is obligated to investigate. Normally that responsibility falls on the HR Department. Some employers even bring in a consultant or an attorney to investigate such a claim. During some investigation, the accused person might have to be suspended from work until the investigation is complete, depending on the seriousness of the case. All these activities create extra cost for employers. And it might cause bigger problems if the investigation is not conducted properly.

(c) The newly funded anti-sexual harassment fund can also potentially increase the costs of employers in the future.


(4) Professional resources are not being fully used because the relevant information is asymmetric.

There are millions of offices and professionals in the field of law, psychology, media/communication can offer services to the people who have been sexually harassed. Due to the nature of privacy of sexual harassment cases, these offices and professionals don’t have access to their market.


4. Solutions

OnTheRecord is a third-party entity that gathers, maintains, and validates information about alleged instances sexual harassment in workplace environments, through which a pool of sexual harassers and victims will be established. Victims can be connected to gain mutual support and power as a group. [3]


(1) How it works:


Victims submit complaints or stories; OnTheRecord discovers the pattern; Victims identify the offender; OnTheRecord builds up databases under different industries; OnTheRecord connects victims with other victims who would like to come together as a group for mutual emotional support and other professional support.


(2) Why will it work?

1. Most victims are not willing to publicize their experience.

2. Many sexual harassers get away with it because their patterns are never revealed.

3. Many victims have the courage to help other victims fight sexual harassment 4. It is unlikely that someone will be wrongly accused because proving a pattern requires serious investigation, including collection and analysis of the facts

5. Information collected from the website will be time-stamped and kept absolutely private. Everything will be dormant until a pattern has been discovered.

[1] The service can also provides reports to employers on applicants and employees. It provides information unavailable to Human Resources Departments, including if applicants or employees have a pattern of harassing others and whether past instances of harassment have been resolved, thereby reducing a company's future liability and costs associated with compliance, employee mediation, and loss of employees due to harassment.


[2] OnTheRecord can also offers employers an avenue to purchase information of potential patterns of abuse.


[3] Professional resources that dedicated to help sexual harassment victims will gain access to this market. Employers will have the information they need to make right decisions on hiring and set the budget on compliance and investigation. Other roles and parties in economic activities, such as contracts, academia, professional service, etc., will be able to do background check when professional ethics is concerned.

© 2018 By Shaoming Zhu

shaomingzhu@flia.org

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