January 31, 2024

Employers may be surprised to learn that employees often choose to remain silent about harassing behavior despite their intentions to foster open communications. In the second of our three-part blog series, we examine why employees can be hesitant to report harassment and the effect this has on an organization. 

A lack of harassment claims shouldn’t instill confidence that a company has a harassment-free culture. It should instead prompt a review of what may be holding employees back from reporting misconduct. In a Traliant survey of more than 1,000 US employees, one-third of respondents indicated that they would only report harassment if they could do so anonymously. 

It signals that many employees do not feel confident reporting harassment due to fears of retaliation, a belief that an organization’s leadership may not take reports seriously, be impartial or keep them confidential and that filing a harassment claim may ultimately cost an employee their job. If employees don’t report possible harassment, employers are unable to address it, which can lead to reduced productivity, increased turnover and legal liability.  

Employees’ reluctance to report harassment can be summed up in a word: Trust. Our survey found that only 44% of workers strongly agree that their employers promote a speak-up culture.  

“I don’t think in my years of investigating complaints I’ve ever encountered an employee who didn’t assume retaliation happens in the workplace,” said Elissa Rossi, Vice President of Compliance Services at Traliant, lawyer and former Assistant Attorney General of New York. “Promoting a speak up culture starts with a strong retaliation policy. Then it’s a matter of training managers and employees that nothing that could be interpreted as retaliation should occur after a complaint is filed.” 

To encourage employees to report concerns, employers should take three steps. First, make sure that the organization has in place robust anti-retaliation policies which offer multiple reporting channels including anonymous reporting mechanisms. Second, regularly train employees on these policies and on what retaliation is. Third, ensure that the organization takes action to stop retaliation when it occurs and that people who engage in potentially retaliatory behavior are disciplined.  

It is only when employees feel assured it’s safe to report misconduct, and witness the tangible outcomes of successful investigations, that employers can genuinely tackle the issue of harassment head-on. 

“The repercussions of unreported harassment extend far beyond the immediate individuals involved,” adds Rossi. “Every employer has a strong incentive to train employees on how to identify and report different forms of harassment. Reporting puts the information in the employer’s hands.” 

Essential role of managers 

Employees should feel confident that they can raise concerns when they witness harassment, regardless of one’s position within an organization. Employers can create a safe environment for them to do that by training managers in their responsibilities to report any potentially harassing conduct they learn about. 

Through their words and actions, managers set the tone for how safe individuals feel coming forward to report harassing behavior. By regularly reinforcing that a company’s zero-tolerance policies apply to everyone and promptly relaying complaints of harassment to HR, managers help build workforce trust, transparency and accountability.  

Managers must also stress that all employees are barred from retaliating against an individual who reports potential wrongdoing or takes part in an investigation. If there is an investigation, managers should follow up with the reporting individual to assure them that relevant actions are being taken and their complaint will be treated confidentially.  

“An investigation may ultimately conclude that an employee’s complaint against another individual isn’t harassment, but less than ideal conduct,” said Rossi. “It can be an early warning sign for an employer that an individual needs additional training to prevent future incidents.” 

Traliant Resources 

For more on how employees are experiencing threats of harassment, read Traliant’s full report “Fear Factors: A 2024 Employee Survey Report on Workplace Violence, Harassment and Mental Health.” 

For more information on Traliant’s Preventing Workplace Harassment training, click here.  

In Part 3 of this blog series, we will look at the impacts of workplace threats on employee mental health. 

Read Part 1 in our blog series of workplace violence. 



Mark Hudson