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Sexual Harrassment in the Work Place

In: Social Issues

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Sexual Harassment in the Work Place Metropolitan College of New York Professor Dorter
July 31st, 2012

Sexual Harassment occurs quite often and often times the victim is unaware of what to do or is scared to speak up knowing your rights is important. It is key to understand what one should do if faced with this dilemma. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”
Conduct is not sexual harassment if it is welcome. For this reason, it is important to communicate verbally, in writing, or by your own actions to the harasser that the conduct makes you uncomfortable and that you want it to stop. Many different kinds of conduct—verbal, visual or physical—that is of a sexual nature may be sexual harassment, if the behavior is unwelcome and if it is severe or pervasive. Some examples may include, comments about clothing, personal behavior, or a person’s body; sexual or sex-based jokes; requesting sexual favors or repeatedly asking a person out; sexual innuendoes; telling rumors about a person’s personal or sexual life; threatening a person.
Physical conduct may consist of inappropriate touching of a person or a person’s clothing; kissing, hugging, patting, stroking. Looking up and down a person’s body; derogatory gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature; following a person. Visual harassment includes: Posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature.
Non-sexual conduct may also be sexual harassment if you are harassed because you are female, rather than male, or because you are male, rather than female. For example, it may be sexual harassment if you are a woman working as a carpenter on an all-male job, and you are the only one whose tools are frequently hidden by your male co-workers.

The conduct of the harasser must either be severe or it must be pervasive to be sexual harassment. A single incident is probably not sexual harassment unless it is severe. For example, a single incident of rape or attempted rape would probably be sexual harassment (it would also violate criminal laws).
Although a single unwanted request for a date or one sexually suggestive comment might offend you and/or be inappropriate, it may not be sexual harassment. However, a number of relatively minor separate incidents may add up to sexual harassment if the incidents affect your work environment. Some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether the conduct is pervasive are: How many times did the incidents occur? How long has the harassment been going on? How many other people were also sexually harassed?
If you are fired, refused a promotion, demoted, given a poor performance evaluation, or reassigned to a less desirable position because you reject a sexual advance, that almost certainly is sexual harassment. Even if the conduct does not result in economic injury or change of status to your job, it may be sexual harassment if the conduct unreasonably interferes with your work performance or creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” For example, it may be illegal sexual harassment if repeated sexual comments make you so uncomfortable at work that your performance suffers or if you decline professional opportunities because it will put you in contact with the harasser.
Laws against sexual harassment are designed to protect you from your boss, your co-worker, or customers at work. Both men and women can be sexually harassed. Someone of the same or opposite sex can sexually harass you. The federal law prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended. The law makes certain employers responsible for preventing and stopping sexual harassment that occurs on the job. Title VII applies to private and most public employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, and joint employer-union apprenticeship programs with 15 or more employees.

Not only is sex harassment against the law, but so is retaliating (taking revenge) against someone for complaining about sexual harassment or for participating in an investigation of sexual harassment. Examples of retaliation include: you complain about sexual harassment and are made to take an unpaid leave of absence, although the harasser continues to work; after you write a letter describing sexual harassment that you witnessed, you are reassigned to a less desirable position in the same or different department. Title VII makes employers liable to prevent and stop sexual harassment of employees. Under Title VII, covered employers must: (1) take reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment; (2) take reasonable care to promptly correct sexual harassment that has occurred. There are no specific actions an employer must take to satisfy the requirement that it take reasonable care to prevent or stop sexual harassment. An employer may satisfy the requirement of reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment by having and distributing to employees a policy prohibiting sexual harassment and informing employees how to make a complaint. However, if an employer has a policy but does not enforce it, or if an employer fails to investigate sexual harassment complaints but investigates other complaints of misconduct, then the employer may not be taking reasonable care. However, before an employer can be legally responsible for taking reasonable care to correct sexual harassment, the employer must be aware that the harassment has occurred. For this reason, it is important to follow your company’s internal grievance procedures, if they exist, or to otherwise notify your supervisor if you are experiencing harassment.
It is sometimes hard to report harassment because you might feel embarrassed or think that it was your fault even though it is not. Reporting sexual harassment to your employer is important. It may stop the behavior and it makes your employer responsible for stopping the behavior. One should always report the sexual harassment to your employer. You then have the option to use your company’s sexual harassment complaint process, file a charge with a state or federal agency, and/or go to court.
It is important to talk with a lawyer or legal services organization like Equal Rights Advocates to discuss your choices. They can help you to understand your choices, their benefits and risks as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
Tell the person that his/her behavior offends you. Firmly refuse all invitations. If the harassment doesn’t end promptly, write a letter asking the harasser to stop and keep a copy. As soon as you experience the sexual harassment, start writing it down. Write down dates, places, times, and possible witnesses to what happened. If possible, you may want to ask your co-workers to write down what they saw or heard, especially if the same thing is happening to them. It is important to remember that others may (and probably will) read this written record at some point. It is a good idea to keep the record at home or in some other safe place. Do not keep the record at work.
It is imperative to tell your supervisor, your human resources department or some other department or person within your organization who has the power to stop the harassment. If possible, tell them in writing. Keep a copy of any written complaint you make to your employer. It is very important that you report the harassment because your employer must know or have reason to know about the harassment in order to be legally responsible for a co-worker, client or customer’s actions. Even if your harasser was your supervisor, you may need to show that you reported the harassment to your employer or give a good reason why you didn’t. Start a Paper Trail, Review your Personnel File, Use the Grievance Procedure at Work, Involve your Union, and lastly you could file a discrimination complaint with a government agency.
Sexual harassment is an extremely delicate situation and it is often time not reported due to being scared or embarrassed. To be well educated on ones rights is key to recognizing sexual harassment in the work place and makes for a happier and healthier work environment.


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