Small businesses with less than fifty employees operate under very different regulations than their larger counterparts. These regulations deal with a wide variety of workplace issues, from taxes, to health care, to human resources management. Here, we will consider the fact that small businesses are not required to have specialized Human Resources (HR) departments and the implications for these circumstances on victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. While forgoing an HR department may make economic sense in the eyes of a business owner, as they may not have the human capital to warrant nor the resources to maintain such a department, this situation can prove detrimental for their employees who experience sexual harassment at work.
Without a trustworthy HR department on hand, and employee who experience workplace harassment may have nowhere to turn for help. If one of their workplace equals is harassing them, say a waiter harassing a waitress, that waitress may be able to go to their shared supervisor for help. Due to the nature of small businesses, however, there is a significant chance that the waiter may have some significant relationship to the supervisor, perhaps a father/son relationship, significantly decreasing the chances the waitress will receive help. By speaking up regarding the harassment, she would actually be putting herself in a worse position by criticizing her boss’s son.
If their supervisor or the businessowner is the one doing the harassing, the situation is even more dire. In this case, there really is no place for the employee to turn. One might think that they could report this harassment to the police, but in most situations, the sexual harassment experienced at work is not severe enough to be considered a crime. While there is no doubt that the harassment is detrimental to the employee and in no way appropriate, the police cannot step in unless the employer actually breaks the law in some way.
Thus, speaking up about sexual harassment at a small business is very risky due to the unique challenge of not having an HR department. If an employee resists their supervisor’s advances or challenges the advances of a valued employee, they risk losing their job. Many people in this situation have to weigh whether or not the pay from this job is worth the harassment they are forced to contend with. While it may be beneficial to get the harasser in trouble or to stand up against a toxic boss, many harassed employees choose not to report in order to maintain job security and a steady income.
From the above information, it is clear to me that we need a better system to handle harassment in small business settings, one that makes it easier for harassed employees to come forward about their experiences without fear of financial or economic retaliation from vindictive employers. Perhaps we can make workplace harassment a crime, forcing the police to get involved when there is not an HR department to handle the situation internally. Regardless of how we move forward, we must recognize that victims of sexual harassment at small businesses are placed in a very tricky situation from which is it nearly impossible to escape unscathed.