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June 24, 2014

Sexual Harassment


Nowadays women have become the main theme and hit the headlines in newspapers, magazines and ads. They adorn films, fashion shows and entertainment activities of the like. They are center of attraction at mixed gatherings and social functions due to the grace and glamour they possess. But at the same time, they are also the victims of sex crimes and injustice in the form of lack of protection and workplace violence. Sexual harassment in the workplace is also one of the many forms of sexual discrimination against women.
Sexual Harassment
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” (Hodas). This definition applies if such activities serve as one of the conditions for a person’s employment or influence placement or promotion decisions, or unreasonably interfere with an employee’s work performance by creating a distressing environment.
Following are some of the situations wherein incidents of sexual harassment are quite likely: s
  • Person involved in sexual harassment may be the supervisor or co-worker of the victim
  • It is not necessary that person who is assaulted sexually would be the only victim; anyone who is affected by this act is the victim of sexual harassment
  • Any such sexual act fall into the category of sexual harassment, which is unwelcome

Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can be divided into two categories:
  • Quid-Pro-Quo: It is a Latin word, which means “this-for-that”. This type of sexual harassment occurs when anyone in the supervisory position makes sexual advances towards victim and links the benefits of the job, promotion etc. with victim’s compliance. For example a manager may tell a victim that if she needs promotion, she has to sleep with him.
  • Hostile Environment: This type of sexual harassment occurs when the unwelcome sexual advances begin interfering with the victim’s performance and the victim’s sense of protection and harmony thereby paving way for a hostile working environment. Sending pornographic messages or emails to the victim, sending unwelcome and vulgar jokes or/and indulging into physical contact without the victim’s permission are some of the examples of this type of sexual harassment. Hostile environment is a type of sexual harassment, which occurs regularly in organizations

What to do when sexually harassed?

There are several options to opt for individuals who feel that they are victims of sexual harassment. Choosing the right option depends upon various factors including the situation and condition of sexual harassment, the personal situation of the victim, the company where the person being harassed works and so on and so forth. Some of the common options available for a victim of sexual harassment are:
  • Deal with the harasser directly: The most effective method for a victim of sexual harassment is to talk to the harasser directly in order to inform the harasser that his or her attitude can cause problems not only for him but also for the company. In ninety percent of the cases, this is the best approach (Wendt and Slonaker). Also, drawing the attention towards the legal repercussions can turn out to be quite effective.  
  • Write a letter to the harasser:  It is often not possible for the victims of sexual harassment to face the harasser directly. In such cases writing a direct letter to the harasser is a good approach. This letter may clearly describe the behavior of the harasser, how the victim feels about it and what is she or he capable of doing if the behavior of the harasser persists. This approach also works most of the time.
  • Keep record of incidents: It is suggested that the victim keeps a detailed record of all unwelcome sexual advances from the harasser in a diary with complete date and time. It will make his or her case effective while confronting with the harasser or while lodging complaint against the harasser’s behavior.
  • Talk and seek support: The problem of sexual harassment cannot be ignored for its consequences can prove life-threatening or personality damaging. Therefore, the harasser must talk and seek mental or moral support from anyone whom he/she feels close to.   
  • Seek help of the supervisor: If confronting the harasser does not solve the problem, the next step is discussing the matter with the head of the department or human resource manager or the supervisor. In that case, supervisor or manager will summon the harasser and give him/her an opportunity to clear his/her position. Once the harasser is found guilty, the manager may give the guilty employee a warning and may compel him or her to excuse his inappropriate behavior from the victim.   
  • Sue the harasser: If victim feels that the problem is too severe and he or she may suffer emotionally or financially then she or he has the right to sue the harasser or harasser and employer both. Employers are usually sued in the cases wherein a victim loses his or her job due to sexual harassment prevalent at the workplace.
  • Press criminal charges: This option applies in particular cases. For example, if the victim is sexually assaulted and molested without his or her permission then a criminal charge of sexual assault may be pressed upon the harasser.
What companies do when employees file a claim of harassment?
Frieda Klein, a management consultant contends that “most businesses have put sexual harassment policies on their books, but a minimum have put it to work. They are not doing enough” (Anderson, p.7). When an employee of the company lodges a complaint of sexual harassment against a co-worker or a supervisor, the employer’s response must be consisted on the following steps:
·         Take immediate and appropriate action: It is the duty of the employer to take immediate action regarding sexual harassment complaints. Employer must contact the complainant to identify the severity of the complaint.
·         Explain the process: Companies must have clear rules for sexual harassment problems. Moreover, the organizations must inform the concerned parties what action will be taken according to the outlined policy. Otherwise, it is the duty of the firm to summon the complainant and the harasser, investigate the matter and then inform the concerned people about the company’s decision.
·         Record the facts: Investigate the matter and keep a complete record of this investigation, which must remain confidential and not permitted to be  viewed by anyone except the parties involved.
·         Listen carefully: The in-charge authorities must carefully listen to both the sides and then take the appropriate action.
·         Decision: After investigating the matter thoroughly and listening to the story of both the parties, the company officials then must decide the required course of action.
What companies can do to prevent harassment in the workplace?
Managers must continuously be on guard against engaging in any activity that can qualify for either verbal or physical sexual harassment. Many companies have established policies and training programs for supervisors dealing with the problem. Management must be sensitive to the legal and moral aspects of the issue. The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that the sexual harassment of an employee by a supervisor violates the federal law against sex discrimination in the workplace under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial and sexual discrimination. The court also ruled that an employer’s “lack of knowledge of harassment by a supervisor does not necessarily insulate that employer from liability” (Taylor, p. 1A).
In order to prevent occurrence of sexual harassment cases, an organization may take the following steps:
·         Outline a clear sexual harassment policy: Companies must have a clear sexual harassment policy identifying the possible definitions of sexual harassment and the ways in which the officials plan to deal the problem if and when it arises.
·         Training for employees: Employees must be trained on yearly basis to cope with the problem of sexual harassment. Training sessions must explain the entire workforce about the actual definitions of sexual harassment thereby explaining all employees about their duties as team members to create friendly and harassment-free work environment. Also, companies must educate their employees about complaint procedures and other related information.  
·         Training for supervisors and managers: Managers and supervisors should also be trained on yearly basis to deal with the complaints of sexual harassment
·         Create friendly and trustworthy environment: The responsibility of the employers is to try their utmost to keep their employees absolutely loyal. Following are some of the strategies that can help organizations in gaining trust of their employees, which can greatly help in creating a friendly work milieu:
1.      Meet the workforce on monthly basis or more often to address and comprehend their concerns and also to reinforce exceptional performance.
2.      Develop a comprehensive system to measure employee satisfaction on weekly basis.
3.      Conduct random and planned interviews with employees to figure out how they feel about their immediate bosses.
4.      Use training sessions to address weaknesses in managerial styles identified through surveys and interviews.
5.      Create and develop a program to identify bad management.
6.      Remove poor managers from their managerial posts.
·         Take serious action on sexual harassment complaints: Companies must take immediate action on any sexual harassment complaint. Company’s decision should be swift, effective and must be in the favor of the victim.
What companies do to a person who is found guilty of sexual harassment?
The best policy for the company, after knowing that the accused harasser is actually guilty of sexual harassment, is to give warning to the harasser and tell him or her to excuse his behavior from the victim, if the complaint is not severe. In case of serious complaint, person who is found guilty of sexual harassment should be terminated immediately.
Law of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is strictly prohibited in the form of Federal as well as State laws. Federal law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace under the Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the following words: “If an allegation of sexual harassment is substantiated and according to the nature of the allegation, complainant may be entitled to punitive damages, back pay, lost benefits, etc.  Affected parties are entitled to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission” (Federal Laws Prohibiting Sexual Harassment).

Examples of sexual harassment

There are many acts that fall in the category of sexual harassment. Following are some of the examples of sexual harassment:
  • Sexual remarks about the physical appearance of a co-worker
  • Sexual jokes without the consent of the coworker
  • Unwelcome sexual advances like touching and fondling without the consent of other person
  • Obscenities and other verbal remarks
  •  Molestation of sexual nature
  • Forcible sexual intercourse (rape) etc 

Case on sexual harassment

          Following is a case of sexual harassment and sexual assault filed by Mrs. Darby against her company Bracebridge Engineering Ltd.

Bracebridge Engineering Ltd. vs. Darby (1989)

Mrs. Darby was an employee of the company Bracebridge Engineering Ltd. and had been working for the organization for 13 years. She stated that one evening works manager and a worker grabbed her, took her into a vacant office where she was sexually molested (Sexual Harassment: Cases). When she lodged the complaint to the General Manager of the company, he refused to take any action because the harassers denied the charge. She resigned from the company and filed a lawsuit against the organization. She won the case and the company had to pay her the compensation for loss of earnings and mental and physical torture.

Conclusion


Women usually face discrimination in every field, especially in the male-dominating workplace. Sexual harassment is also a form of sexual discrimination. Women face either Quid-Pro-quo or Hostile Environment; the two most common types of sexual harassment. They have the right to file charges against the harassers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and check with local authorities regarding applicable state laws. Federal law also prohibited sexual harassment under Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment can be costly to firms too, in terms of lost productivity, turnover, absenteeism and court costs. Thus it is suggested that the best policy of firms against sexual harassment is the prevention of sexual harassment. This can be achieved through a clear sexual harassment policy and constant training of employees and supervisors in order to ensure a healthy as well as a friendly work environment.

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