There is something in the news almost every day about some well-known individual being accused of sexual harassment. Whether or not it is true, it is important to talk about and understand what sexual harassment is really all about. As business owners, we are responsible to step up and make a stand against any kind of harassment – sexual, bullying, race, age – whatever. We need to stop and remember that we are all on this planet together and we need to work together too.
- Sexual Harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.
- The key word is “unwelcome”.
- Some behavior is clearly inappropriate and unwelcome because it is rude or disrespectful.
- No one wants to be leered at, touched, or ogled when they are just trying to do their job.
Just a Few Examples of Unwelcomed Conducts:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Leering or ogling
- Making sexual gestures or displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters
- Sending sexually inappropriate email or displaying Internet pornography or “pop-ups”
- Making or using derogatory comments, slurs, or jokes
- Physically touching someone in a sexual way
- Blocking or impeding someone’s movements
Who is the victim:
- The victim can be the person who is the target of the behavior.
- Or, it can be a third party who is not the intended recipient of the behavior.
- This person may merely be a witness or overhears the behavior and finds it offensive.
- Third-party complaints are actually fairly common, especially where two or three people frequently joke around with each other and are unaware, or just don’t care, how their behavior affects others.
Who is the harasser:
- Employers are responsible for providing a workplace free from discrimination and harassment, regardless of the source of the problem.
- The harasser can be a supervisor, manager, or co-worker; it could also be a vendor, supplier, contractor or visitor – even a customer or client.
- The law says that employers must take all reasonable measures to protect their employees from illegal conduct.
How do you know if the behavior is unwelcomed?
- Whether something is unwelcomed or not is viewed from the perspective of the “victim”. So, even though the harasser is just trying to be funny or liven things up a little, is just kidding, or means it as a compliment, it is the recipient’s reaction that matters. And, unfortunately, the recipient’s reaction is not always clear.
- The very same behavior that might be OK from one person, might be offensive coming from someone else.
- A compliment might be great from a friend who notices some new outfit, but might seem too personal or insulting from someone at work who you don’t really know very well.
- A friendly hug from a supportive co-worker might be fine, but from a person you hardly know, it could feel like a violation of your personal space. Often, it depends on the relationship between the employees.
The Law – Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964:
- The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace because of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. Over time, other protected characteristics such as age or disability have been added to the list by both federal and state laws.
- Harassment of someone based on a protected characteristic has the effect of discrimination because it tends to discourage them from applying for a particular job, or once hired, it makes it more difficult for them to do their job.
- Remember, harassment based on sex doesn’t depend on what your gender or orientation is – men can (and do) harass other men, and women. And women can (and do) harass other women and men.
- It is the unwelcome behavior that matters, not the gender of the parties involved.
- Retaliation is also against the law!
- This includes retaliation against someone who resists illegal behavior, reports it, or participates in an investigation.
- Retaliation is sometimes seen when coworkers “shun” or ostracize the person who came forward and complained.
The two forms of sexual harassment:
- Hostile Work Environment
- This form of harassment is ongoing, pervasive, or severe behavior that unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
- This is the most common form of sexual harassment.
- Most employers will try to stop any unwelcome behavior before it becomes ongoing, pervasive or severe – why wait until someone is hurt or before it causes more serious problems.
- Quid Pro Quo – this for that
- Exchanging job benefits for sexual favors or threatening to deny job benefits if sexual favors aren’t given.
- This is a very serious form of harassment.
- It generally involves a supervisor, or someone with power, who is using that power to gain sexual favors.
- Often the employee feels trapped by such an offer, and fears losing his or her job if they don’t “agree”.
When to Act and What to Do:
- Say something right away!!! If you don’t say something, the behavior will likely continue. Tell the harasser; tell your boss, tell you supervisor’s boss if your supervisor is the problem; and get help from anyone else up the chain of command.
- Studies show that people usually stop if they’ve been asked. But if that doesn’t work, or if you are just not comfortable confronting the harasser, you should immediately take the problem to someone in authority who can help you deal with it.
- Not everything is going to trigger a huge investigation, for example if there has just been one inappropriate remark, a simple reminder of proper workplace manners is often all that is needed.
- The important thing to remember is the sooner you deal with the problem, the better.
- What if someone complains about your behavior?
- What should you do if you are accused of acting inappropriately?
- STOP immediately.
- Don’t wait for a chat with your boss.
- Don’t wait for a call to stop.
- Don’t wait until a formal complaint is filed.
- Don’t wait for a lawsuit.
What can YOU do about sexual harassment in the workplace?
- Know what it is…
- Say something if someone has “crossed the line”…
- If someone complains about your behavior – STOP!
- Get help if someone is bothering you…
- By treating others with dignity and respect, we can all enjoy the benefits of a harassment-free workplace! It is just common sense!