This past year has seen a turning point on the topic of sexual harassment. Where once, sadly, people swept sexual misconduct and harassment issues under the rug, they now have been dragged into the light.

That’s a good thing. The #MeToo movement has ignited a long-needed conversation across the United States on how we handle sexual harassment issues, especially in the workplace.

But it’s also created a challenge for human resources managers and business leaders.

While almost every organization has some kind of sexual harassment policy in place, only 30 percent of women who experience sexual harassment ever file a complaint about it, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

That has made training on sexual harassment – seeking to prevent issues before they happen – a critical move for companies. That’s why ESI Group has offered a free preview of their sexual harassment courses in an effort to support organizations in this challenging area.

The Cost of Sexual Harassment

The ripple effects of the #MeToo movement have been powerful. Many high-profile men have lost their jobs due to their behavior. Those include movie producer Harvey Weinstein, former “Today” show host Matt Lauer, actor Kevin Spacey and the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

For victims of sexual harassment, the cost can come both in emotional terms as well as in their career. Many women for decades have feared to come forward because they felt talking about sexual harassment would damage their career.

And there are costs for organizations, too. They can run into the millions when considering both the costs of settling sexual harassment cases and business lost because of damage to their brand.

The EEOC reports that $40.7 million was paid out by organizations in 2016 alone for sexual harassment cases.

Some individual cases involve jaw-dropping figures. For example, Fox reportedly paid $13 million to five women who filed sexual harassment charges against former on-air personality Bill O’Reilly. And in one case in California, a physician’s assistant at a Sacramento hospital  received $168 million in a court case for putative damages, lost wages and mental anguish caused by harassment at the hospital.

And with the #MeToo movement and the fact that most experts agree sexual harassment has gone under reported in the past, the number of cases is only expected to increase.

Better Training Is The Answer

The issue is bigger than monetary. Companies that pay out thousands or even millions to settle sexual harassment cases often do not fire the person who was accused of sexual harassment. As many of the public cases show, that means the harassment may continue.

It’s far better for organizations to take preemptive action that can prevent sexual harassment rather than reacting when it occurs. Training such as that offered by ESI, which is among the nation’s leading experts on employee assistance programs, can open the door to a more productive workplace with zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Properly training employees about sexual harassment and preventing it can also improve employee morale and cut down on turnover in the workforce as well as the number of absent days.

Elaine Varelas, a jobs expert who writes for the Boston Globe, said people need training because of the sensitivity of the issue and the way it can manifest itself from small comments or actions before growing into something worse.

She wrote about sexual harassment training, “Everyone needs to develop a heightened awareness of how they are treating coworkers…nothing but positive things can result from this—an informed, aware, and understanding workforce and an environment in which everyone feels comfortable and able to voice any concern.”

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