SHRM Research Finds Some Employees Unaware of Company Sexual Harassment Policies

Less than one-quarter of employees who experienced sexual harassment reported it

January 31, 2018
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Although most employers have a policy on sexual harassment — a basic tool for preventing and addressing inappropriate behavior — some employees are not aware of it, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found in new research.

Ninety-four percent of surveyed HR professionals told SHRM that their organizations have anti-harassment policies. Yet, 22 percent of nonmanagement employees did not know for sure that these policies existed.

“A lack of information exists for some employees,” said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of workforce analytics. “The research findings suggest that, in some cases, policies are discussed as part of new-hire orientation and then shared only during training, which occurs once a year or once every two years.” 

“To sustain a harassment-free culture, policies need to be continually reinforced by leaders and managers and be part of everyday discussions,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of SHRM. “If it’s not part of your culture to be talking about this, then it is going to be harder to curb inappropriate behaviors.” 

As part of the national conversation about sexual harassment, SHRM has embarked on a look at the issue through research. Today’s findings are the first in the SHRM Harassment-Free Workplace series. 

The research included two confidential surveys of HR professionals with a total of 1,078 respondents and a survey of 1,223 nonmanager employees. The research was conducted in January 2018 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 and 3 percentage points, respectively.

Reporting of Sexual Harassment

In another key finding, incidents of sexual harassment appear to be under-reported by employees.

Eleven percent of nonmanagement employees said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past 12 months. Of those, 76 percent said they did not report it for reasons that included fear of retaliation or a belief that nothing would change. This finding is consistent with what the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) has previously reported.

“It appears that employees don’t feel that they have the power to bring allegations forward in a way that won’t harm them,” Esen said. “Sixty-two percent of HR respondents said their organizations were assessing their culture to identify potential risks for sexual harassment. Companies and HR have more work to do to create environments that emphasize respect and minimize the fear of retaliation.” 


Thirty-six percent of HR professionals reported at least one sexual harassment allegation at their organization within the past 12 months. Of these, 36 percent reported an increase in allegations in the past year.

A majority of HR professionals (57 percent) believed that unreported incidents occur to a small extent in their organizations. In contrast, 35 percent of nonmanager employees believed that.

The survey found that verbal harassment, including unwanted sexual advances through words and comments, was the most common form of sexual harassment.

“Unspoken cultural norms can allow inappropriate behavior,” Taylor said. “Sometimes the harasser might not realize that what is being said is inappropriate. This is why a culture of respect and training are important.”


Thirty-two percent of organizations made changes to their sexual harassment training in the past year. The most common changes were to include workplace civility and to tailor training to a specific workforce, two suggestions of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.

Most employers use technology to deliver training, with 37 percent using online/video training, and 36 percent using both online/video and face-to-face training.

For more information, visit the survey findings and SHRM’s Harassment Resource Page

Media: To schedule an interview, contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at 703-535-6260 and or Vanessa Hill at 703-535-6072 and

About the Society for Human Resource Management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR professional society, representing 285,000 members in more than 165 countries. For nearly seven decades, the Society has been the leading provider of resources serving the needs of HR professionals and advancing the practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @SHRMPress.


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