I look back through my employment history from high school to date, and I must admit, I cannot remember of a single place of employment where I did not experience some form of sexual harassment, whether I was witnessing the harassment or I was personally harassed. There were verbally abusive bosses, bosses who liked to touch ears and elbows (very strange), very “huggy” co-workers, one co-worker who kissed everyone on the mouth, upper management infidelity, alcoholic bosses with creative comments…you get the picture.
Of course twenty, or even ten years ago, I don´t recall harassment being such a huge issue. It seemed to be much more tolerated….at least from my perspective. I remember one of my female co-workers saying “I can handle him; I wouldn’t run to HR crying about that, he’s just playing”. Of course, I was young, and admittedly did my own share of flirting with the co-workers and bosses, I mean; we´re all adults, right? No harm in a little fun"?¦.have that attitude in today´s workplace and you will find yourself in the middle of a court proceeding.
According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
There are a variety of circumstances in which sexual harassment can occur, including but not limited to:
The harasser and/or the victim may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. (Believe it or not, I have seen more women act inappropriately at work than men. According to the EEOC, they received 13,136 charges in fiscal year 2004. 15.1% of those charges filed were filed by males).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. (So if you are offended by a woman in your office who continually sits on guys´ laps during lunch, that counts, yes, even if the guys don´t mind).
Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome. (And if you feel the conduct is unwelcome yet never speak out for yourself, nothing will ever be resolved).
It would be helpful for the victim to directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. However, there are circumstances where the victim might feel they will lose their job if they speak up. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.
The EEOC resolved 13,786 sexual harassment charges in fiscal year 2003 and recovered $37.1 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. You should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. You can do so by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.
The following is a sample of what might be included in a sexual harassment policy:
It is the goal of company to promote a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment of employees occurring in the workplace or in other settings in which employees may find themselves in connection with their employment is unlawful and will not be tolerated by this organization. Further, any retaliation against an individual who has complained about sexual harassment or retaliation against individuals for cooperating with an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint is similarly unlawful and will not be tolerated. To achieve our goal of providing a workplace free from sexual harassment, the conduct that is described in this policy will not be tolerated and we have provided a procedure by which inappropriate conduct will be dealt with, if encountered by employees.
Because company takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously, we will respond promptly to complaints of sexual harassment and where it is determined that such inappropriate conduct has occurred, we will act promptly to eliminate the conduct and impose such corrective action as is necessary, including disciplinary action where appropriate.
Please note that while this policy sets forth our goals of promoting a workplace that is free of sexual harassment, the policy is not designed or intended to limit our authority to discipline or take remedial action for workplace conduct which we deem unacceptable, regardless of whether that conduct satisfies the definition of sexual harassment.
Definition Of Sexual Harassment
The legal definition for sexual harassment is this: “sexual harassment” means sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
(a) submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions; or,
(b) such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment.
Under these definitions, direct or implied requests by a supervisor for sexual favors in exchange for actual or promised job benefits such as favorable reviews, salary increases, promotions, increased benefits, or continued employment constitutes sexual harassment.
The legal definition of sexual harassment is broad and in addition to the above examples, other sexually oriented conduct, whether it is intended or not, that is unwelcome and has the effect of creating a work place environment that is hostile, offensive, intimidating, or humiliating to male or female workers may also constitute sexual harassment.
While it is not possible to list all those additional circumstances that may constitute sexual harassment, the following are some examples of conduct which if unwelcome, may constitute sexual harassment depending upon the totality of the circumstances including the severity of the conduct and its pervasiveness:
Unwelcome sexual advances – whether they involve physical touching or not;
Sexual epithets, jokes, written or oral references to sexual conduct, gossip regarding one’s sex life; comment on an individual’s body, comment about an individual’s sexual activity, deficiencies, or prowess;
Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons;
Unwelcome leering, whistling, brushing against the body, sexual gestures, suggestive or insulting comments;
Inquiries into one’s sexual experiences; and,
Discussion of one’s sexual activities.
All employees should take special note that, as stated above, retaliation against an individual who has complained about sexual harassment, and retaliation against individuals for cooperating with an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint is unlawful and will not be tolerated by this organization.
Complaints of Sexual Harassment
If any of our employees believes that he or she has been subjected to sexual harassment, the employee has the right to file a complaint with our organization. This may be done in writing or orally.
If you would like to file a complaint you may do so by contacting company´s human resources department. Human Resources is available to discuss any concerns you may have and to provide information to you about our policy on sexual harassment and our complaint process.
Sexual Harassment Investigation
When we receive the complaint we will promptly investigate the allegation in a fair and expeditious manner. The investigation will be conducted in such a way as to maintain confidentiality to the extent practicable under the circumstances. Our investigation will include a private interview with the person filing the complaint and with witnesses. We will also interview the person alleged to have committed sexual harassment. When we have completed our investigation, we will, to the extent appropriate inform the person filing the complaint and the person alleged to have committed the conduct of the results of that investigation.
If it is determined that inappropriate conduct has occurred, we will act promptly to eliminate the offending conduct, and where it is appropriate we will also impose disciplinary action.
If it is determined that inappropriate conduct has been committed by one of our employees, we will take such action as is appropriate under the circumstances. Such action may range from counseling to termination from employment, and may include such other forms of disciplinary action as we deem appropriate under the circumstances.
State and Federal Remedies
In addition to the above, if you believe you have been subjected to sexual harassment, you may file a formal complaint with either or both of the government agencies set forth below. Using our complaint process does not prohibit you from filing a complaint with other agencies such as the EEOC (provide address in your city).
“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” ~ Emily Dickinson