Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. In Oncale v. Sundowner, the US Supreme Court decided just this month unanimously ruling that same sex complaints are covered by the law.
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
It is becoming increasingly rare to find the traditional “quid pro quo” claim of sexual harassment. The current trend is that of a “hostile work environment” which can be much more difficult for the employer to address. The EEOC considers the following factors in determining whether or not an environment is sexually hostile:
Whether the conduct was verbal or physical or both
Whether the conduct was hostile or patently offensive
Whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or supervisor
Whether others joined in perpetrating the harassment, and
whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual.
No one factor controls but an assessment is made based upon the totality of circumstances.
It is helpful for the victim to directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. However, a victim of harassment need not always confront his/her harasser directly, so long as his/her conduct demonstrates that the harasser’s behavior is unwelcome. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available and, if that fails, contact the EEOC which makes a determination on a case-by-case basis.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers should take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. An effective prevention program should include an explicit policy against sexual harassment that is clearly posted for the employees to read and be included in any in-service training programs. I heard on the news last week that a company was being sued even though they had a sexual harassment policy. The complainant didn’t feel that the company did enough to assert the policy. The employer should also have a procedure for resolving sexual harassment complaints. This procedure should encourage victims to come forward and should not require the victim to complain first to the offending supervisor, if that is the case. This procedure should ensure confidentiality as much as possible and provide effective remedies as well as protection from retaliation.
I would like to share a couple of statistics that Dr. Chwialkowski gave out in my other Public Administration class last week. He found a survey that asked women how many of them had slept with their bosses. Nineteen percent responded that they had. Of those, sixty percent said it furthered their careers.
The following is a scenario Dr. Chwialkowski gave out. I would like for the class to input your opinions as to whether or not sexual harassment occurred.
Michael is a supervisor who works for the Bowling Green office of the Environmental Protection Agency. Young and athletic, Michael has had more than his share of affairs with young women, but has never been married. He has always had a good relationship with the young women in the office, and often plays tennis and golf with some of them on Saturdays. They frequently tease him about the suggestive calendars and pin-ups that he has hanging in his office, especially of Demi Moore, who is Michael’s favorite Hollywood actress.
This teasing increased when Mary, a young and attractive 25 year old with a Master’s Degree from Duke, was hired into the office. Michael immediately took a liking to her and assigned her to some of the agency’s “pet” projects that Michael himself was involved in. Michael also placed her in an office that was in close proximity to his own. In the process of working together, Michael learned to respect Mary’s professionalism and intelligence as well as her beauty. He was hopeful, then, when he asked her out in December of 1996, for he told his best friend John that “I believe Mary is something really special.”
For two months, Mary and Michael dated. The relationship, at least according to Michael, was proceeding in a satisfactory fashion, and didn’t seem to be interfering with their relationship at work. On February 1, 1997, however, Mary abruptly announced at the beginning of their date that this was the last time that she would go out with Michael – she had no specific reasons for her decision, except to announce that she was not quite ready for a serious relationship. Michael was stunned and didn’t know how to respond.
For the next six months, the relationship between the two was noticeably strained at work. Mary deliberately avoided the area around Michael’s office, and Michael noticed that she avoided joint projects that offered the possibility of working with him. On several occasions, Michael tried to talk to Mary when she was alone near the Xerox copy machine, but Mary stated that there was nothing to talk about and walked out. On four separate dates, Michael left messages on Mary’s answering machine at home, but never received a response. Finally, Michael concluded that the gossip surrounding the relationship was hurting morale in the office and decided to request that Mary get a transfer to another location. Michael’s boss approved the request, and Mary was transferred to Pittsburgh.
Michael thought the incident was over and was surprised in February 1998 when he discovered that the agency and Michael individually were being sued for sexual harassment by Mary. Based on the above, has Michael done anything wrong? What should/will be the outcome of this lawsuit?
“What about it? Isn’t she ‘bout a typical woman going after the money???!!!
What specifically did Michael do wrong? He really cared about Mary and she wouldn’t even talk with him. OBVIOUSLY SHE WAS THE PROBLEM!!!!
If she would have talked with him and settled the matter, there probably would not have been any further problems.
Was Michael wrong to call her house repeatedly and leave messages on her machine?
Was he wrong to approach her at work at the Xerox machines to discuss this personal problem????
Was Michael wrong to have the pin-ups in his office? The other ladies didn’t seem to mind and teased him.
Dr. Chwialkowski said that in today’s court, Michael and the agency would probably lose mainly because they transferred her. If Michael would have transferred himself, there most likely would not have been grounds for a suit.
The purpose of this discussion isn’t to say absolutely whether Michael or Mary was wrong but to get you thinking about this.
There is an old adage, “Don’t get your honey where you get your money.”
What do you think about that? Is there some truth to that? (GET INPUT FROM CLASS IF THEY ARE TALKATIVE)
But, what about all the successful marriages that have resulted from men and women who first met at work?
Should the employer discourage romance in the workplace?
What if an employer has a policy against co-workers dating or becoming involved? Is that right? Is it any of their business? What it affects job performance?
Should the employer be liable if they do or do not encourage or discourage workers from starting relationships that may go bad and cause problems on the job later.
These are complicated issues and there are no cut and dry answers. Relationships develop in work areas all the time and always will. On a personal level, before you become involved with someone at work, there are consequences that should be considered. Once more, there have been many successful marriages so it is not necessarily taboo. If you are in a management position, you should be prepared to handle the complications that may result when one of these relationships go bad and effect work performance. For example, Michael’s boss could have handled the situation better. He actually made the decision to transfer Mary. Michael only recommended the transfer. Maybe he should have told Michael he needed to be the one to go.
As the political make up of the US Supreme Court changes, and the decisions that determine what constitutes sexual harassment change, Human Resource Managers need to be ready to adapt and change with those swings. Sexual harassment is just one of a myriad of issues that have to be dealt with.