Despite the laws and rules in place to protect employees from workplace harassment, misconduct still occurs at far too many businesses. And at some companies, harassment doesn’t just happen occasionally – it is a widespread issue.
A big problem demands a significant response
One example of systemic harassment involves Activision, a video game publisher. Last year, the company faced a lawsuit from a state agency alleging that female workers were paid less than men, promoted less often than men, and subjected to pervasive sexual harassment.
In all, the company received about 700 comments from employees expressing concerns about workplace harassment. Some assertions were not actionable; others suggested egregious misconduct.
In response to the revelations about the widespread toxic culture, Activision announced that 37 employees were fired or pushed out of their roles at the company, and more than 40 others received written warnings and other forms of disciplinary action.
While these individuals make up less than 1 percent of the company’s workforce, hopefully the disciplinary action taken by Activision will create a better, safer place for women to work.
This case is an example of how far-reaching harassment can be in a workplace. Harassment is not always limited to one perpetrator and one victim, or even one perpetrator and several victims. Rather, harassment can be a pervasive issue that spreads through all levels of the business.
When we see a culture of harassment at a company, it often arises from the failure of an employer to create and promote a safe work environment and take swift action when bad actors engage in misconduct. Businesses must take seriously each complaint of harassment and look into both the incident itself and the operations and culture of the company that may have facilitated the misconduct. The investigation should include discussions with witnesses to determine what occurred and the extent to which the harassment may be ongoing.
When businesses take swift, aggressive action to stop harassment, they can avoid costly penalties like lawsuits, fines, and public embarrassment. Those who do not take complaints seriously can and should be held accountable for engaging in or permitting harassment in the workplace.