What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is illegal and is a form of discrimination forbidden by federal and state laws. Federal regulations suggest sexual harassment exists when:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term of condition of an individual’s employment.
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment
This is a legal definition. It is impossible to define every action or every word that can be interpreted as sexual harassment. In any given situation it is advised that you seek legal counsel. The examples C. Harris Companies provides are intended to illustrate some behaviors that can be harassing and illegal. But it is not a complete list of objectionable behavior.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment – covers situations offering employment benefits or giving preferential treatment in exchange for sexual favors. It also covers retaliation against someone who turned down sexual advances. These represent the first two areas mentioned above that a covered by federal law.
Hostile Work Environment Harassment – represents the third area in the federal law’s definition and it can take many forms.
Sexual harassment can be summarized as unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that includes sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and verbal comments or physical behaviors of a sexual nature. While every offensive joke or comment may not amount to sexual harassment, it crosses the line if it is unwelcome. The best practice is not to engage in this type of behavior. The following are example of visual, verbal and physical actions that can create a hostile work environment:
- Visual Conduct – such as derogatory or suggestive posters, cartoons, drawings or gestures.
- Verbal Conduct – such as epithets, slurs, jokes, derogatory, suggestive or unwanted comments or statements about an individual’s body.
- Physical Conduct – such as assault, blocking normal movement, restraint, touching, or other physical interference with work directed at an individual.
To assure a workplace that is welcoming to all workers, the best practice is not to engage in this type of behavior.
What Do I Do?
Sexual harassment is not to be tolerated and your company must develop specific procedures for handling complaints. C. Harris Companies can provide assistance in the development of policies and procedures for companies to follow to prevent workplace sexual harassment. It also consults in the appropriate company actions following a sexual harassment complaint.
However, each of us as individuals must struggle with our response at the critical moment should sexual harassment occur. The appropriate action to be taken depends on your role in a harassment situation in your workplace. The following is some suggested steps for any of the players involved:
Survivor of harassment
1. If you feel you have been subjected to harassment, inform the harasser that his or her behavior is unwelcome and you want it to stop. Many times a direct but simple conversation will end the situation.
2. If speaking directly to the harasser is not feasible, address your comments to the harasser in writing. Give a copy of the letter to a person you trust to support you. Indicate what action you are prepared to take if the behavior does not stop.
3. Talk with your supervisor of Human Resources representative. This can be done either in writing or verbally. Retaliation for filing a complaint is not only a good company policy; it is against federal law as well.
4. Contact your Employee Assistance Program representative to look for the counseling you may want.
Bystander – Witness to harassment situation
1. Take courage. Interrupting prejudice must be a conscious process. Being an ally (in part) means interrupting prejudice. It requires courage, commitment, skills – and finally – desire. Research shows that when there is a perception that prejudicial views are tolerated, ignored, or supported, the prejudices are reinforced and perpetuated. Sexual harassment exists because of a prejudicial notion of the harasser to take power over a targeted individual.
2. Take action. There are several considerations one must think of for interrupting prejudice. Is this the right time and place? Am I the right person to interrupt this prejudice? When you have thought through the best strategy you might to:
- Share your observations with the targeted individual. Ask what support she/he might want from you.
- Share your observations with the perpetrator. Inform her/him that you felt the behavior was unwelcome and you want it to stop. Indicate what action you are prepared to take if the behavior does not stop.
- Share your observations with your supervisor of Human Resources representative. Identify a potential problem situation before it escalates.
3. When you do feel that the moment demands you become an ally, keep faith. Remember these words, “For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good people to do nothing.”
“Cathy Harris’ diversity initiative reduced the number of EEO complaints by 30 percent and saved us over $880,000 in administrative costs.”Gary Thornton, EEO Manager, USDA
Perpetrator of sexual harassment
1. Recognize that you want to stop using physical, sexual, property and psychological power over others in your relationships.
2. Contact your Employee Assistance Program representative to look for the counseling you want. You may find what you need in Men Ending Violence Programs, Crisis Intervention Services, Battered Women’s Shelters or other mental health professionals.
3. Whenever you feel your need to feel power over someone rising, say out loud to yourself and others: I am feeling tense, I need to take a time-out. Leave the area for a set time limit. Do not drink or drive. Do something physical – like walk or run. Think about the situation that made you tense. Come back within the agreed time limit. Check in with the employee following the timeout and ask if he/she want to talk about the situation. If the answer is no, respect that individual’s request. Save the discussion for your counselor. Think about your priorities. Nothing can be more important than stopping the unwelcome behavior.
1. Develop and promote policies to inform employees about what behaviors are expected and what the consequences of inappropriate behavior can be.
2. Investigate complaints promptly, effectively, and supportively.
3. Cultivate employees that are specially trained to be available to investigate reported incidents of sexual harassment.
4. To the extent practical, investigations need to be kept in confidence among those employees who need to be informed in order to complete the investigation and resolve issues that need to be addressed.
5. Following an investigation, if it is determined that an employee has engaged in prohibited sexual harassment, appropriate corrective action up to and including termination must be taken.
6. Provide appropriate company follow-up action, where appropriate, to prevent any further harassment.
C. Harris Companies can provide assistance in the development of policies and procedures for companies to follow to prevent workplace sexual harassment. It also consults in the appropriate company actions following a sexual harassment complaint. Call 504-241-3255 or 1-800-924-2284
Dorothy Waldrup is an attorney who specializes in employment discrimination. She has practiced since 1974 in Louisiana and is now living in California. Although she has extensive litigation experience, her passion is training to raise awareness and prevent employment litigation.
Dorothy Waldrup and C. Harris Companies, Inc. can help your organization or association increase performance, productivity and profitability. Get the free monthly
Cathy can be reached at (504) 241-3255 or firstname.lastname@example.org