An Unfamiliar Twist On Sexual Harassment In the Workplace

Posted by & filed under Nanci's Notions Blog.

When you hear the term “sexual harassment” what picture comes to mind?  I would bet no matter how enlightened or evolved you think you are somewhere in the recesses of your mind you pictured a lecherous, skirt -chasing guy slyly running around the office propositioning younger female employees.  How sexist you say!  Maybe, but the times are changing.  There is a new reality to consider in the workplace. According to U.S. Labor statistics in 2008 women made up 46.5% of the total workforce. “The largest percentage of employed women, (39 %) worked in management, professional and related occupations.”  In the high paying management and professional jobs women were 51%  majority of all workers, outpacing men in fields like human resource management, accounting, education administrators and financial managers. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints by men about female supervisors have escalated.  In 2007 men filed 16% of the EEOC complaints.

Sexual harassment is a taboo subject that managers and human resource people deal with cautiously. The outcome of a sexual harassment charge could be injurious to all involved including the employer. Depending on the charges and who committed them an employer could be liable for damages in a sexual harassment complaint.  Sexual harassment is an infraction against Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act states that, “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms. Conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”  In addition, the EEOC has determined that sexual harassment is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature …when…submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions…or such conduct has the purpose or effect of…creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

What does this all mean? Let this be a wake up call to all women working outside the home. With the current abundance of women in the workforce there is ample opportunity for women to be harassed or to be the harasser. Sexual harassment can be committed by the same sex or the opposite sex.  In a Louis Harris and Associates telephone poll of 782 workers 31% of the female workers said they had been harassed at work.  In the same poll 7% of the male workers said they had been harassed at work and 59% of those men said it was a woman who had harassed them. Harris and Associates also reported that 62% of the targets took no action against their harassers who were described as supervisors, senior employees, co-workers and even a few junior employees. While we have moved passed the “Mad Men” era fictionalized on cable television, women need not imitate the bad behavior practice of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment generally occurs in the workplace as “quid pro quo” or hostile environment. Quid pro quo usually involves a person in a position of power requesting a subordinate to perform an unwelcome sexual favor in return for a better work situation. Negative retaliation on the employee’s job evaluation as a result of refusing to comply with the superior’s request is also considered “quid pro quo”. Hostile environment is created when an employee is subjected to unwelcome touching, offensive sexual language or offensive sexual materials in the workplace. In 1968 the U.S. Supreme Court made companies take on more responsibility to protect their employees against sexual harassment. Check with the Human Resources Department in your organization to make sure that they are in compliance and have a have a sexual harassment policy and/or training program for all employees.

If you think you are being sexually harassed consider the following actions:

  •  Tell the harasser to stop
  •  Record all harassing incidents with date, time, witnesses (written account)
  •  Contact the Affirmative Action Officer or superior to assist you with registering a written complaint
  •   Contact a sexual harassment attorney to help get your employer’s attention if you are being ignored
  •  Contact EEOC to file a harassment complaint if the situation is not resolved by your employer

I am interested in your comments on sexual harassment in the workplace. Is sexual harassment more of a problem, less or the same since women have increased their visibility in power positions?