Omid Nosrati

Will smartphone apps become the new forum for reporting harassment?

For the last few weeks, our blog has been providing some essential legal background on the topic of sexual harassment -- establishing facts, debunking myths, examining how it occurs -- with the objective of empowering employees to take the necessary action.

The need for such an exercise becomes readily apparent once you see just how many people are victimized by workplace harassment, yet feel as if there is nothing they can do about it. Indeed, one meta-analysis of studies dating all the way back to 2008 revealed that less than 33 percent of those subjected to sexual harassment ever reported it, while as little as 13 percent ever filed a formal complaint.

As for the reasons behind this longstanding reluctance to report, it can be attributed to uncertainty as to whether the conduct in question was harassment or assault, the belief that it was a one-time incident, or, most commonly, the fear of retaliation.

While many employers have taken action to address this -- establishing telephone hotlines, retaining the services of counselors and naming point people for handling complaints within HR departments -- the hesitation to report sexual harassment remains.

Interestingly enough, however, some employers are now weighing a new option for reporting and combating sexual harassment: smartphone apps.

While this might seem odd, experts indicate that smartphone apps may prove to be one of the more effective reporting tools yet given the degree of anonymity provided (i.e., users don't have to worry about voice recognition) and the ease of reporting.

Some of the apps currently in use include:

  • Callisto: This app allows users to learn more about harassment, reporting policies and the actions that can be taken. Those looking to file a report have the option of 1) recording an incident with a time stamp, 2) filing an official report electronically, or 3) reporting the offender only if he or she is named by someone else. While the app is currently used by colleges, it's been adopted by the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy theater, while other groups have also expressed interest.
  • StopIt: This app, which functions like a messaging app, allows users to submit anonymous reports of harassment along with evidence (video, screenshots, etc.) directly to multiple HR people. StopIt was deployed by California-based Kaiser Permanente in nine offices this past spring and three reports were received within 48 hours.

While this is certainly an encouraging development, some legal analysts have expressed concerns about employers perhaps becoming too reliant on the technology, such that they move away from other methods of reporting harassment. This, they argue, could actually serve to impede investigations, as only so much actionable information can be gathered via apps.

What are your thoughts?

If you have been victimized by sexual harassment, it's important to understand that you have rights and you have options. Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can explain the law and pursue solutions as soon as possible. 

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