Definition: Sexual HarassmentSexual harassment is a form of discrimination, in the United States, that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Sexual harassment occurs when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee, against his or her wishes.
According to a current issues update from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment occurs, "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."
Examples of Sexual HarassmentSexual harassment can occur in a variety of situations. These are examples of sexual harassment, not intended to be all inclusive.
- Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments and repartee.
- Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker's back, grabbing an employee around the waist, or interfering with an employee's ability to move.
- Repeated requests for dates that are turned down or unwanted flirting.
- Transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature.
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters.
- Playing sexually suggestive music.
When an employee complains to a supervisor, another employee, or the Human Resources office, about sexual harassment, an immediate investigation of the charge should occur. Supervisors should immediately involve Human Resources staff. Employees need to understand that they have an obligation to report sexual harassment concerns to their supervisor or the Human Resources office.
Policies to Adopt to Prevent and Address Sexual HarassmentYour policy handbook needs a:
- sexual harassment policy,
- general harassment policy,
- policy about how sexual harassment investigations are conducted in your company, and
- policy that forbids an employee in a supervisory role from dating a reporting employee and that details the steps required should a relationship form.
I'm not a fan of non-fraternization policies. I think the workplace is one of the logical locations for people to meet and fall in love, as long as the employees engaged in the relationship follow common sense guidelines. But, dating your reporting staff is never appropriate. After creating these policies, you need to train all employees about these policies.
The Role of Managers in Harassment Prevention and Investigation
Managers and supervisors are the front line when it comes to managing employee performance and needs from work. First, and most importantly, you do not want a workplace culture that allows any form of harassment to occur. Out of your commitment to your employees and your company, harassment, in any form, is never to be tolerated.
In harassment, as well as in other law suit-engaging topics, as an employer, demonstrating that you took appropriate steps is crucial. In fact, demonstrating that you took immediate action and that the consequences for the perpetrator were severe, is also critical.
And, the front line leader is usually the person initiating and following through on those steps, so they have to feel confident about what they are doing. Any form of harassment can create a hostile work environment including sexual harassment and how it is addressed.
The court's definition of what constitutes a hostile work environment has recently expanded to coworkers who are caught up in the situation, too.
As you think about sexual harassment and other forms of harassment in your work place, keep these facts in mind.
- The employee harassing another employee can be an individual of the same sex. Sexual harassment does not imply that the perpetrator is of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the employee's supervisor, manager, customer, coworker, supplier, peer, or vendor. Any individual who is connected to the employee's work environment, can be accused of sexual harassment.
- The victim of sexual harassment is not just the employee who is the target of the harassment. Other employees who observe or learn about the sexual harassment can also be the victims and institute charges. Anyone who is affected by the conduct can potentially complain of sexual harassment. As an example, if a supervisor is engaged in a sexual relationship with a reporting staff member, other staff can claim harassment if they believe the supervisor treated his or her lover differently than they were treated.
- In the organization's sexual harassment policy, advise the potential victims that, if they experience harassment, they should tell the perpetrator to stop, that the advances or other unwanted behaviors are unwelcome.
- Sexual harassment can occur even when the complainant cannot demonstrate any adverse affect on his or her employment including transfers, discharge, salary decreases, and so on.
- When an individual experiences sexual harassment, they should use the complaint system and recommended procedures as spelled out in the sexual harassment policy of their employer. The investigation should be conducted as spelled out in the handbook.
- The employer has the responsibility to take each complaint of sexual harassment seriously and investigate. The investigation should follow these steps listed in How to Address Sexual Harassment Charges.
- Following the investigation of the harassment complaint, no retaliation is permitted, regardless of the outcome of the investigation. The employer must, in no way, treat the employee who filed the complaint differently than other employees are treated nor change his or her prior-to-the-complaint treatment. If it is determined that the employee lied, disciplinary action is necessary, however.