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Sexual harassment in the workplace

The causes of sexual harassment at work are quite complicated, and immersed in socialistic behavior, political affairs, emotional, and mental states. Work relationships at times can become quite intimate, personal, and strong. This closeness can fog the boundaries which are often crossed. Employees are reliant on each other for support, and are dependent on their managers approval for opportunities and the success of their careers. Managers and supervisors can become accustomed to their power of authority over employees. Sexual harassment can be caused by many life traumas such as death in the family, divorce, financial issues, etc. There are many ways to try to help with the fight against sexual harassment, but the most effective way to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace is prevention.

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted sexual attention made verbally or physically. It is also defined as behavior by someone higher in power to someone in a lower status. Employees are protected by the state and federal laws of sexual harassment. The Federal law solutions for workplace discrimination are from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to employers who have fifteen or more employees. Employees that works for smaller companies mostly are protected by state laws for sexual harassment ("Sexual Harassment Law"). There are two general categories of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Quid Pro Quo Harassment - Quid pro quo means "this for that". "Quid pro" behavior involves express or implied demands for sexual favors in exchange for some benefit (a promotion, a raise, a good grade or recommendation) or to avoid some detriment (termination, demotion, a failing grade, denial of a fellowship) in the workplace or in the classroom. By definition, it can only be perpetrated by someone in a position of power over another.
  • Hostile Work Environment Harassment - A hostile work environment situation is a demeaning and unwelcome sexually related behavior that is offensive, employee comment on another employee's appearance, circulate obscene pictures, give an employee sexual objects, ask about an employee's sex life, tell offensive jokes, hostile or intimidating to the victim, but has no direct connection to any job benefits. A hostile work environment includes sexual harassment by an employee against a co-employee. However, the annoying behavior creates an offensive working environment which affects the victim's ability to continue working ("Sexual Harassment Law").

In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was developed by state legislation, to prohibit sex discrimination in the working environment. Ten years after the development of Title VII, the Supreme Court dealt with its first incident, Barnes vs. Train, a sexual harassment case. A woman who was hired as an administrative assistant filed a lawsuit against her male manager through the Environment Protection Agency's Equal Opportunities Division because she did not have with sexual relations with him. Unfortunately the district court dismissed this case. The district court was under the impression that even though Barnes was treated unfairly, the discrimination was not because she was a woman, it was because she refused to have sexual relations with her manager (Baridon, 12,13).

Another case held under the developed Title VII was Corne vs. Bausch & Lomb Inc. In this matter, there were two women who quit their positions so their male supervisors would stop trying to engage in sexual actions with both of them. The both sued their supervisors for sexual harassment. Again, unfortunately, the district court in Arizona dismissed this because they believed sexual harassment occurred in most environments like that and did not want to single anyone of them out. The district court felt it would not be fair for the men who had been victims of sexual harassment as well. Under these circumstances, the district court only recognizes sexual harassment when an employer avoids such charges due to the fact that employees are against this kind of harassment. Thus, these cases prove that the courts have a narrow interpretation of "sex discrimination" and views inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace as an issue to be decided under criminal law. The court believes that sexual harassment is not sex discrimination because it proves that discrimination was based on the willingness or non-willingness to engage in sexual activity rather than gender.

Another famous case, which had a strong impact on today's society, was Hill vs. Thomas. In 1992, Anita Hill sued Clarence Thomas, a well-respected politician, for sexual harassment. The court ruled in favor of Thomas because they believed that her argument wasn't strong enough. As a result of this, Anita Hill began a feminist movement ranging from college campuses to the U.S. Navy. She also encouraged women to run for political office, inspiring academic scholarships and debate. She has awakened many people to the injury of sexual harassment conflicts (Caggiano, 111-114).

The rate of sexual harassment increased dramatically in recent years. Most respondents think that sexual harassment is a major problem in this country. Not surprisingly, 82% of women and 43% of men recognize this problem in our society. Only 42% categorize it as a minor problem. During 1987, a spokesman who works in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Company realized that the agency's limited statistics on the number of claims filed were not published. At this time, the agency began to collect and record this data. The number of claims filed since that year has been unbelievable. There were 6,000 described cases in 1988. In 1989 there were 6,200 cases and the cases have slowly been rising yearly. By 2003, 65% of females and 19% of males admitted to feeling some form of sexual harassment ("Sexual Harassment"). Many people think that sexual harassment is an expression of sexuality. But most experts see it as a reflection of inadequate distribution of power in the company. Definitely, most victims are women in lower positions. As more victims of harassment have gone public, the damage the practice has on people with repeatedly quitting their jobs, switching careers, changing majors, or even dropping out of college. Sexuality is emotional, not rational. It may be an important quality of life; however it is seen as a little importance at work when examined against the matters of government and education. For this reason, most biologists, philosophers, and theologians have a different notion pertaining to the issue of sexual harassment due to their professional standpoints. Indeed the work world is continuously dominated by men; many women are still looking over their shoulders worrying whether they have established their professional worth. Sexual harassment surveys demonstrate that men view sexual advances as a minor problem in their work environment but women consider it as a major problem. Whatever the case may be, in order for sexual harassment to be controlled in the workplace prevention must start occurring.

In order to avoid sexual harassment from happening, it is better to prevent before it happens. Among all the ways to avoid sexual harassment, prevention is the best tool. Prevention ways such as code of practice in which the employers encouraged by the Ministry of Human Resource adopt the Code of Practice against sexual harassment and an internal mechanism to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. Firms should conduct training session for employees, supervisors, and managers. This session should teach what sexual harassment is, demonstrate that employees have a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, examine their complaint method, and stimulate employees to use it. The employers should take all the complaints seriously. If someone complaints about sexual harassment, immediate action to investigate the complaints should occur.

It is essential that employers have in place accessible and effective policies and procedures to deal with sexual harassment and harassment. These measures should be agreed by the employers with the relevant trade union or employee representatives. In so far as practicable, clients, customers and business contacts should also be consulted. A policy on sexual harassment and harassment at work is an integral part of equal opportunities strategies in the workplace. Such policies will be more effective when operated in conjunction with similar policies on equal opportunities and health and safety. The Employment Equality Act protects employees from employment related sexual harassment and harassment. There are different definitions and provisions in the EE Act. It distinguishes between sexual harassment (on the gender ground) and harassment that is based on one of the other grounds ("Code of Practice").

It is necessary for employers in work place as well as other responsible people or institutions to observe certain guidelines to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment of women or men, as to live with dignity is a human right guarantee by our constitution. Though it happens, we should analyze and detect the problem and find the best possible solution to handle the sexual harassment. By doing this, the harasser will get the deserved punishment from the law. In many cases victims of sexual harassment have lost jobs, been suspended, and rejected to participate. Women are the main victims of sexual harassment in today's world.

In recent years, sexual harassment has been one of the most serious and widespread problems found in the workplace. For this reason, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed, by the United Nations in 1948, to help everyone in their fight for self-respect and dignity (Universal Declaration). Indeed sexual harassment is an issue that complicates employment decisions. People also recognize that it is an issue involving the creation of an antagonistic or offensive work environment. In many instances, the issue of sexual harassment is not something minor that can be easily solved.

Sexual harassment, in most cases, involves a superior's behavior towards a subordinate. As mentioned before, most forms of sexual harassment occur in the workplace. An employee can charge an employer with sexual harassment as a result of the misconduct of managers, fellow employees, vendors, and customers. Eventually, this can cause a hostile work environment.

Effects of sexual harassment on organizations:

  • Decreased productivity and increased team conflict
  • Decrease in success at meeting financial goals (because of team conflict)
  • Decreased job satisfaction
  • Loss of staff and expertise from resignations to avoid harassment or resignations/firings of alleged harassers; loss of students who leave school to avoid harassment
  • Decreased productivity and/or increased absenteeism by staff or students experiencing harassment
  • Increased health care costs and sick pay costs because of the health consequences of harassment
  • The knowledge that harassment is permitted can undermine ethical standards and discipline in the organization in general, as staff and/or students lose respect for, and trust in, their seniors who indulge in, or turn a blind eye to, sexual harassment
  • If the problem is ignored, a company's or school's image can suffer
  • Legal costs if the problem is ignored and complainants take the issue to court.

Common professional, academic, financial, and social effects of sexual harassment on victims:

  • Decreased work performance; increased absenteeism
  • Loss of job or career, loss of income
  • Having one's personal life offered up for public scrutiny -- the victim becomes the "accused," and his or her dress, lifestyle, and private life will often come under attack. (Note: this rarely occurs for the perpetrator.)
  • Being objectified and humiliated by scrutiny and gossip
  • Becoming publicly sexualized (i.e. groups of people "evaluate" the victim to establish if he or she is "worth" the sexual attention or the risk to the harasser's career)
  • Defamation of character and reputation
  • Loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred
  • Loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or his or her colleagues
  • Extreme stress upon relationships with significant others, sometimes resulting in divorce; extreme stress on peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues
  • Weakening of support network, or being ostracized from professional or academic circles (friends, colleagues, or family may distance themselves from the victim, or shun him or her altogether)
  • Having to relocate to another city, another job, or another school
  • Loss of references/recommendations ("Sexual Harassment Facts").

There are many ways to stop sexual harassment from occurring as much in the workplace. Prevention must occur and remain top priority in assuring that this happens effectively.

Works Cited

  • Baridon, Andrea P. Working together new rules and realities for managing men and women at work. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994. Print.
  • "Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment." The Equality Authority. Web. 28 Oct. 2009. <http://www.equality.ie/index.asp?docID=342>.
  • Caggiano, Christopher "The Inc. Faxpoll" Mutimedia Publications Inc. 1992
  • "Sexual harassment. | Society, Social Assistance & Lifestyle Sex & Gender Issues from AllBusiness.com." Business Resources, Advice and Forms for Large and Small Businesses. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. <http://www.allbusiness.com/professional-scientific/accounting-tax-preparation/521803-1.html>.
  • "Sexual harassment: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article." AbsoluteAstronomy.com. Web. 28 Oct. 2009. <http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Sexual_harassment>.
  • "Sexual Harassment Law." Legal Help, Directories, Articles, and Forums From ExpertLaw. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. <http://www.expertlaw.com/library/employment/sexual_harassment.html>.
  • "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. Web. 28 Oct. 2009. <http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/>.

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