According to some researchers, employers in California and other parts of the country may not be implementing sexual harassment policies effectively if they leave their interpretation up to employees. A study conducted at the University of Missouri showed that when employees interpret how their company policies define sexual harassment, they do so through the filter of their own perceptions. This could completely counter the intent with which such policies were written in the first place.

One of the study’s directors said that the participants reinterpreted policies on their own terms and in relation to their typical workplace behaviors. While the policy in question was designed to foster respectful relations, the workers indicated that it created a stifling culture by stopping them from making jokes and interacting as they were accustomed to.

The researchers concluded that in addition to implementing policies, employers need to go over them and make their meanings clear so that everyone is on the same page. They also advise focusing on the gender-related differences in how people define and approach harassment. The results also suggest that future studies may benefit from further examinations of the ways policy comprehension can effect how sexual harassment is dealt with.

Being subjected to sexual harassment on the job does more than make it harder to work effectively. Actions like unwanted comments, sexual propositions and unwelcome contact can create such a hostile environment that merely coming to work becomes traumatic. Although sexual harassment policies commonly prohibit certain behaviors, they may lack efficacy due to prevailing workplace cultures that overlook some actions as being normal. Sexual harassment victims may find it advisable to meet with an employment law attorney in order to determine what remedies may be available.