Sexual Harrassment in the Workplace

Under federal law, sexual harassment is described as a form of sex discrimination that violates a person’s civil rights, creates a hostile work environment and is conduct that is unwanted and sexual in nature. In 1994, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that behavior could be considered sexual harassment and a violation of a person’s civil rights if it creates a hostile and abusive working environment. Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. It may be physical, verbal or non-verbal.

Many businesses have not addressed the issue. Employers and employees do not always know the legal boundaries of sexual harassment because not all workplaces have a sexual harassment policy in place. Some companies do not take the time to educate their employees about sexual harassment or the consequences of such behavior. Sexual harassment occurs in all levels of employment, from lower level to the highest levels of management. The best way to end sexual harassment in the workplace is to take the necessary steps to prevent that type of behavior initially. It is important that a distinction be made between what is illegal behavior, behavior that is legally defined as sexual harassment, and what is undesirable behavior in the workplace.

It was not until the Anita Hill verses Clearance Thomas case that the seriousness of sexual harassment in the workplace came into the spotlight. Federal law states that for behavior to be considered as sexual harassment that the behavior or actions have to be unwelcomed and create a hostile work environment. The situation between Frank and Mary definitely constitutes a form of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Frank has a known reputation of being a flirt and flirting with female employees. His actions and statements towards Mary were very inappropriate as well as unprofessional. Although Frank did not directly come out and tell Mary what he wanted from her, his intentions were very clear and direct.

When Frank made the statement to Mary that he was sure that her client enjoyed “desert”, he implied that she had given her client some type of special sexual treatment to land the account and he now expected the same if she wanted him to approve her expense account and avoid any trouble for the bosses that are higher up. He abused his power and violated the trust that Mary had in him as a supervisor. Mary remained professional even though she was placed in a position that made her feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Frank violated Mary’s civil rights by sexually harassing her. She took appropriate action and reported the incident to Human Resources. Her employers can be held liable if they take no action to correct the situation.

There are a number of legal boundaries in place to protect employees as well as employers when it comes to sexual harassment. It’s imperative that employers have a strict policy regarding sexual harassment and maintain appropriate procedures to address the issue. Once an employee reports or makes a complaint of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior, the employer should initiate an investigation immediately. Mary has the right to come to work and not be harassed. It’s her right to be able to work in an environment that is comfortable and not hostile.

Before doing this assignment, my knowledge of sexual harassment was very limited. I had an idea of what constituted sexual harassment but not a broad understanding of the legal definitions and the laws pertaining to and protecting victims of sexual harassment. After doing research, my understanding of quid pro quo sexual harassment is that it occurs when a person gives in or rejects sexual advances or behavior that is sexual in nature and used as a basis or condition of decisions that affect their employment or made as a requirement for employment, very similar to a trade off. This type of harassment can only be committed by a supervisor or another person that has the power to make or influence actions directly related to employment that will affect the employee that is being victimized or harassed.

Hostile environment sexual harassment happens when a person’s behavior or conduct interferes with and affects an employee’s performance at work and an offensive or hostile environment develops. Examples of this type of sexual harassment are offensive language, explicit graffiti and request for sexual favors. Employers are not the only people who can create a hostile work environment. Co-workers, supervisors and even clients can create this type of environment. When a hostile environment is present, it can affect the moral of employees as well, overall job performance and the company’s reputation. The damage and harm caused by sexual harassment may not be immediately evident. Humiliation, loss of dignity and self-esteem, destruction of professional reputation and physical and psychological injury are just a few examples of the damage sexual harassment can cause.

Unfortunately, sometimes victims of sexual harassment have to choose between their jobs and their personal safety. Many sexual harassment victims are never threatened with firing or lack of advancement but instead suffer repeated abuse by a hostile work environment.

Federal Equal Opportunity Laws as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit sexual harassment on the job. In 2007, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received over twelve thousand charges of sexual harassment. 16.0% of the charges were filed by men. They resolved 11,592 of those charges and recovered forty-nine million dollars for victims. Federal law acknowledges two different sets of legal grounds for claiming sexual harassment under Title VII. The first one is quid pro quo and the second is hostile work environment harassment. When sexual harassment does occur on the job, the victim has the legal right to take their employer to court and sue for damages. Courts follow the doctrine of respondeat superior, which means, the company is held liable even if it had no knowledge of the conduct or behavior.

It’s very important that businesses and companies enact strict guidelines and policies concerning sexual harassment. Not doing so places them at risk for liability when an incident of sexual harassment does happen. Claims of sexual harassment can negatively affect a company’s reputation, profits as well as their customers. Lawsuits resulting from sexual harassment cases can cause a company serious financial damage. It’s in the best interest of companies and businesses to educate all of their employees about proper conduct and behavior. They have to educate themselves as well as their employees about boundaries and exactly what constitutes sexual harassment. They must be diligent about what types of behavior is prohibited and unacceptable. A detailed and strict harassment policy should be instituted. Employers have to take immediate and appropriate corrective action when there is a claim of sexual harassment.

To avoid and prevent sexual harassment, companies have to act before a problem occurs or develops. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission encourages employers to take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They suggest affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise, and how to raise, the issue of sexual harassment

There has to be severe consequences for inappropriate behavior that is deemed as sexual harassment. I believe that if employers inform their employees of the strict penalties that will be enforced in connection with sexual harassment, it will discourage that type of improper behavior. Companies should have a detailed grievance policy and procedure relating to sexual harassment. They need to train their supervisors as well as upper management to deal with issues of sexual harassment. If a company has grievance procedures in place, it will encourage employees to come forward with sexual harassment complaints and provide a sense of security. An effective grievance procedure should provide the victim with alternative methods or avenues for reporting harassment.

When an employee reports sexual harassment, the employer should ensure the employee that the matter will be thoroughly investigated and that the complaint will be kept confidential. A victim of sexual harassment must not be forced to address their complaints to a supervisor who is involved in, condones, or ignores the harassment. It’s very important that a company maintain confidentiality, for the sake of the victim as well as the person accused. Once an employer has received a report of sexual harassment, their liability may be reduced or eliminated depending on how quickly and effectively they respond. Under no circumstance should a company or business delay an investigation of sexual harassment for more than a few days. Severe sexual misconduct should be handled immediately.

Regardless of how comprehensive or complete a company’s sexual harassment policies and procedures they are bound to fail if a company does not properly and promptly enforce them. Employers must be consistent and aggressive when it comes to sexual harassment. It’s a very serious subject and should be taken seriously at all times. Whatever the situation, a company should take action that is reasonably calculated to end the harassment. Such action must be directed toward the harasser, and may include verbal warnings, written warnings, job transfers, suspension of employment, and, if necessary, termination. In dealing with problems, companies must avoid any measures that penalize the individual who has lodged a sexual harassment complaint.

I think that immediate action has to be taken when there is a report of sexual harassment. I think the first step is to launch a full and complete investigation regarding the complaint. Once the investigation is complete, depending on the findings, appropriate action should be taken right away. Penalties for sexual harassment should be based on the severity of the harassment and what extent of damage the victim suffered. One thing is certain, all forms of sexual harassment must be penalized regardless of how innocent the behavior is intended to be. Employees have to be protected from sexual harassment at all costs.