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Sexual Harassment

By krisde Jul 18, 2011 2003 Words
Civil Rights Act and Sexual Harassment
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Federal law as well as various state fair-employment laws prohibit employers with 15 or more employees from treating members of one sex or race differently from members of the opposite sex or another race in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. The statutory and regulatory laws govern the entire employment process from pre-employment activities such as recruiting, through an employee's career with the organization, including termination. The prohibition against sex discrimination imposes responsibility upon employers to afford their employees an environment free from sexual harassment and from the fear that it may occur. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can file lawsuits on behalf of victims of sexual harassment. The legal process is long and cumbersome it can be years from the first complaint to the final verdict. Though, Title VII offers reinstatement to previous job, the individual may be harassed by co-workers making conditions even more uncomfortable than they were beforehand. However, the solutions proposed might seem comprehensive in plans to lessen sexual harassment in the workplace and punishment of harassers. The proposed measures fail to cover all aspects of harassment, though the truth is, it is virtually impossible to formulate a plan to do so. Anti-harassment policies in the workplace can significantly lessen the occurrences of harassment by co-workers, but in reality, corporate policies are only as good as the supervisors that enforce them. Sexual harassment has manifested itself into the everyday work environment, and has now unfortunately become a common occurrence for some individuals. What exactly is sexual harassment? Many people cannot actually define the term properly and give reasons. Many misconceptions of harassment have been conceived. The term sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.   Women and men of all ages, backgrounds, races and experience are harassed on the job. Many acts of harassment can fall into this category, and range from severe to minor.

Signs of harassment can range from meager comments such as comments on a women's breasts or hips to unwanted "accidental" fondling or offensive pictures being brought to their attention.   Harassment can also occur in the form of demeaning or belittling comments about a specific gender.   For example, two male employees whose supervisor threatened to fire them if they refused to participate in various sexual antics including strip poker and striptease performances at the worksite after hours, a boss or higher position person will request sexual favors or acts by using threats.   Since sometimes threats are used, many cases of harassment are not reported because of fear.

Many ideas of why sexual harassment occurs have been conceived. The basic statement of sexual harassment is, sexual harassment results from a misuse of power, not from sexual attraction.   This can be considered a broad statement and many ideas can be built upon it.

There has always been a great battle of the sexes.   The relationship between the sexes in modern America indlcudes a great deal of violence against women.

What Institutions Can Do
The Supreme Court's rulings are motivating employers to take actions that reflect their compliance with federal laws as protection against sexual harassment litigation. There are key steps that employers can take to help prevent sexual harassment one is to develop a strong company policy that specifies in writing what behaviors are unacceptable and the penalties for their actions. Employers can also establish grievance procedures for reporting, processing, and resolving complaints. Providing sexual harassment training for supervisors, managers, and workers that explains what sexual harassment means and how it can be recognized, confronted, and averted is especially helpful.

Strong Company Policy
Although a number of large companies have already established policies governing sexual harassment, effective compliance with the Supreme Court's rulings on sexual harassment requires that all companies, as well as schools that receive federal funds, establish sexual harassment policies that they put in writing, disseminate, and enforce. A company policy addressing sexual harassment must clearly specify (1) the behaviors that constitute harassment and the company's intolerance of such behaviors; (2) channels employees must follow to report sexual harassment complaints to their supervisors or designated company representative; (3) strategies the company will follow in investigating and resolving a complaint, including confidentiality practices; (4) warnings that violation of the policy will result in punishments that could include dismissal; and (5) assurance that retaliation will not be allowed (Ganzel 1998). Good policy statements reflect collaboration among executives, supervisors, and employees. Because "sexual harassment is a manifestation of deeply held beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and cultural norms, it is predicated on sociocultural views and sex-role stereotypes" (Brandenburg 1997, p. 39). It reflects the abuse of power, a gender-power differential, and sometimes power-related retaliation.

In some organizations, verbal teasing, dirty jokes, and sexual pictures may be the dominant behavior that reflects sexual harassment; in others, improper touching, stalking, or shoving may be the misbehavior. When all members of a work organization become involved in establishing policy, these contextual issues can be more effectively addressed and behaviors targeted. Grievance Procedures

Internal grievance procedures could save time, minimize emotional and financial expense, and be more sensitive to all persons.

Effective grievance procedures should clearly define the steps for submitting complaints, both informally and formally. Procedures for informal complaints should detail how the harassed person should go about seeking advice or counsel about a proper response to the offending behavior and describe the process of mediation, negotiation, and problem solving that may be used to resolve the issue. Procedures for formal complaints should require that the grievance be submitted in writing and present all facts related to the incident, who, what, where, when, the scope of the incident, and names of individuals involved. Typically, these reports must be submitted immediately after the incident, not weeks later. However, it is the responsibility of each company to specify the procedures it wants its employees to follow.

Grievance procedures should also identify the person or persons to whom grievances must be submitted. In the grievance officer model, all complaints are processed through a designated supervisor or officer; in the grievance board or committee model, grievances are submitted to a group. Although the grievance officer model offers the advantage of one entry point for complaint submission, it has the disadvantage of possibly requiring the harassed employee to deal with someone with whom he or she may be uncomfortable. The committee model, which places the problem in the hands of many, has the disadvantage of requiring greater communication and coordination between committee members and the harassed employee, making it more difficult to ensure confidentiality.

Whatever process is adopted, the procedures the grievance officer/committee will follow must also be identified, e.g., receive the written complaint, identify the specific harassment, interview complainants, interview the accused, interview witnesses, determine if sexual harassment has occurred, present the findings to both parties along with the consequences of the action, and require employees to accept mandatory arbitration.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

No policy or set of grievance procedures will be effective unless all employees, from supervisors to line workers, administrators to custodial staff, are knowledgeable about the company's policy and grievance procedures. To prevent vulnerability to sexual harassment allegations, an organization must provide access to training for all employees and document their participation in and completion of the training program. Employees need to be aware that, although the recent Supreme Court's rulings held companies liable for harassment by supervisors even when management was unaware of the incidents, they made it clear that companies cannot be held liable for incidents in which an harassed employee did not follow the company's reporting procedures or did not participate in company-sponsored sexual harassment prevention training. Sexual harassment training should explain the law that prohibits sexual harassment, identify the actions that may be categorized as sexual harassment, describe the company's policy and its grievance procedures. However, the training should also heighten awareness of sexual harassment and present strategies for intervention.

Effective programs define sexual harassment and provide information on its incidence. Sexual harassment should be defined as "unwanted sexual attention that would be offensive to a reasonable person and that negatively affects the work or school environment. The key word in the definition is "unwanted." Two categories of sexual harassment may be given to guide thinking during the training program: quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment.

Quid pro quo harassment occurs "when submission to or rejection of such (unwelcome sexual) conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual. Hostile environment harassment, on the other hand, occurs "when unwelcome sexual conduct causes the environment to become hostile, intimidating, or offensive, and unreasonably interferes with an employee's work. Training programs should ensure that participants understand these definitions so that they can construct their own meanings of sexual harassment as they discuss the experiences of others.

Effective programs reflect good teaching and learning practices. They are descriptive, intensive, relevant, and positive (Berkowitz 1998):

They require the involvement of all members of a company or school and include family and community members who have an influence on the employees' or students' life.

They offer participatory, problem-based learning experiences that are interactive and actively engage the student in learning.

They are tailored to the "age, community culture, and socioeconomic status of the trainee and are contextualized to the individual's peer group experiences" (ibid., p. 3).

They present information from a positive viewpoint, encouraging healthy behavior rather than forbidding poor behavior.

Effective programs teach intervention skills. Berkowitz (1998) identifies the following steps for converting bystander behavior to intervention (pp. 3-4):

Help learners to recognize sexual harassment incidents by providing them with appropriate and relevant definitions and examples of sexual harassment.

Help learners to interpret which behaviors signify harassment.

Encourage participants to share their experiences and their intolerance for certain behaviors as a means of illustrating their common ground.

Encourage participants to feel responsible for dealing with the problem.

Teach intervention skills and provide opportunities to practice them. Use role play scenarios to help participants find comfortable and appropriate ways to express their discomfort with another's behavior.

Help participants be free of retaliation. Explore participants' fears about retaliation and provide examples of how interventions will be supported.

Sexual harassment training programs for a business or school organization's supervisors and employees can be internally or externally provided. Some companies are making training available online. Corpedia Training Technologies in Phoenix, or example, has an Internet-linked CD-ROM-based sexual harassment program to help employees and their supervisors recognize and take steps to prevent sexual harassment ("Sexual Harassment Training Online" 1999).

Although the sources of training may vary across organizations, each program should result in the achievement of designated learning outcomes. Case studies, scenarios, and ill-structured problems offer ways to connect knowledge about sexual harassment to its prevention in the workplace. The ultimate success of a company's or school's sexual harassment prevention training program will be reflected in the organization's ability to eliminate the behavior and avoid sexual harassment lawsuits.


Barrier, M. "Sexual Harassment." Nation's Business 86, no. 12 (December 1998): 14-19.

Berkowitz, A. D. "How We Can Prevent Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault." Educator's Guide to Controlling Sexual Harassment 6, no. 1 (October 1998): 1-4.

Brandenburg, J. B. Confronting Sexual Harassment. New York: Teacher's College, Columbia University, 1997.

Ganzel, R. "What Sexual-Harassment Training Really Prevents." Training 35, no. 10 (October 1998): 86-94.

Kimble-Ellis, S. "Safeguard against Sexual Harassment." Black Enterprise 29, no. 5 (December 1998): 36.

"Protecting Employees-and Your Business." Nation's Business 86, no. 12 (December 1998): 18-19.

"Sexual Harassment Training Online." Best's Review 99, no. 9 (January 1999): 82.

"Trainer: Stop Bullying and Teasing in K-6 to Prevent Sexual Harassment Now, Later." Educator's Guide to Controlling Sexual Harassment: Monthly Bulletin 6, no. 4 (January 1999): 1, 3.

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