Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Organizational Sexual Harassment Investigations: Observers' Perceptions of Fairness

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Organizational Sexual Harassment Investigations: Observers' Perceptions of Fairness

Article excerpt

Government statistics indicate that the number of sexual harassment claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state and local Fair Employment Practice agencies rose from 10,532 in 1992 to 12,679 in 2005. Even more dramatic has been the rise in victims' benefits ordered by these agencies, increasing from $12.7 million to $47.9 million during this same time period (EEOC, 2006). Recent research has further indicated that sexually harassing behaviors can have a negative impact on the financial performance of teams in organizations (Raver and Gelfand, 2005). It should come as no surprise, therefore, that organizations have been looking for ways to reduce the costs associated with allegations of sexual harassment.

Prevention is obviously the "first line of defense" against the costs and poor public relations stemming from sexual harassment. It is, however, probably too idealistic to assume that all alleged incidents of harassment can be avoided regardless of how well an organization prepares its employees. Organizations will undoubtedly be called upon to resolve allegations of harassment, often under difficult circumstances such as those situations where the evidence of the harassment is ambiguous and may even boil down to "she said/he said"; many incidents of harassment are obviously cloaked in privacy.

Research has found that the more actions taken by an employer to address sexual harassment, the more favorably employees viewed the organization (DuBois et al., 1999). However, very little is known about employees' perceptions of the specific features of company's sexual harassment responses such as internal investigations. It is critical that organizations develop effective, unbiased investigation procedures. When employees perceive that employers' investigations are fair, they are much less likely to seek assistance outside of the organization to resolve their disputes (Neuser, 2005). Unfortunately, many of the alleged victims of sexual harassment file claims with government agencies as a result of their perceptions of bias and unfairness in the employer's internal investigations (Day, 2000; Dorfman et al., 2000; Bloch, 1995). Employees are skeptical of sexual harassment investigations conducted by management, thereby making them reluctant to accept an organization's findings, and equally anxious to legally challenge any unfavorable decision (Day, 2000). In fact, recent empirical research has indicated that when female subjects were told that an organization's response to a sexual harassment complaint was unfair, the subjects reported a greater interest in pursing litigation against the company than when they were told that the response was fair (Hogler et al., 2002).

While the Hogler et al. (2002) study clearly demonstrated a link between fairness and the likelihood of litigation, very little is actually known about the antecedents to these perceptions of fairness. Despite the lack of empirical research, lawyers, human resource managers, and the academic community have all offered common-sense advice regarding how organizations' investigation procedures can be designed to make their results more acceptable to the grieving parties (Bryson, 1990; Daniel, 2003; Ewing, 1989; Jossem, 1991; Oh, 1992; Wright and Bean, 1993). Specifically, it has been suggested that perceived bias might be decreased by using a sexual harassment investigator who is not an employee of the organization and who is the same gender as the victim (Montoya, 1998; Day, 2000; Morgan et al., 2001; Dorfman et al., 2000). The present study provides an empirical test of these prescriptions from the perspective of third-party observers utilizing an organizational justice framework.

Although alleged victims' perceptions are obviously vitally important, these persons do not live in a vacuum. The actions of both victims and observers are needed to effectively address sexual harassment in the workplace (Kulik et al. …

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