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Building a Workplace Without Sexual Harassment

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In the 1990s, the world experienced the beginnings of a sexual- harassment revolution, as the number of cases increased, the average profile of victims changed and more laws were created in order to set new precedents and protect individuals against sexual predators. Since then, people from all backgrounds, cultures and social positions have found themselves involved in sexual-harassment cases, from presidents to church leaders to professional sports players.

Thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, highly publicized lawsuits and huge settlements, sexual harassment has become a really hot topic. Yet most people are still confused about the difference between acceptable behavior and harassment. Is flirting okay? Casual hugs? A dinner invitation?

The problem is that there are no hard and fast answers to these questions. Cases of sexual harassment are as unique as the individuals involved. What one person labels harassment another may consider acceptable behavior. This subjective element is the source of much of the confusion surrounding sexual harassment.

With 40-80% of working women and 10-15% of men experiencing sexual harassment in their lifetimes (EEOC statistics, 2010), you can be sure the future will bring more eye-opening settlements. How can you eliminate sexual harassment in your workplace? The answer is sexual harassment prevention through education; not litigation. Therefore, our group's study focus on collecting and providing facts that can help you understand this important issue and know how to prevent being involved in sexual harassment as well as building a harassment-free working environment.

Towards this end, the report is divided into three main sections. The first section goes through a review of sexual harassment facts such as concept, basic types, common effects and evolution of related law. Following that, the second section is an analysis of a famous lawsuit occurred in March, 2011 in the United States that raised again the arguments on sexual harassment legal boundaries. Then the last section gives some recommendations to both employees and employers to prevent sexual harassment and build a harassment-free workplace.


1. Definition

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." (cited from Sexual Harassment Training Website).


Conduct is not sexual harassment if it is welcome. For this reason, it is important to communicate (either verbally, in writing, or by your own actions) to the harasser that the conduct makes you uncomfortable and that you want it to stop.

Conduct of a Sexual Nature

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. Here are some more examples:

Verbal or written: 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: Assault; impeding or blocking movement; inappropriate touching of a person or a person's clothing; kissing, hugging, patting, stroking

Nonverbal: Looking up and down a person's body; derogatory gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature; following a person

Visual: 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.

Severe or Pervasive

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? How did it affect your working environment?

2. Type of harassment

There are two major varieties of unlawful sexual harassment. The first type is "quid pro quo" meaning "this for that." This action can only be committed by someone who can make or effectively influences employment actions by firing, demotion, denial of promotion, etc. This type of harassment is usually committed by a supervisor, manager, or someone else with more power than the victim. An example would be a supervisor who tells an employee that she must be sexually cooperative or be fired.

The second is the "hostile environment," which can result from unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, vendors, or anyone else with whom the victimized employee interacts on the job. Some things that can lead to a hostile environment include discussing sexual activities; telling off-color jokes; unnecessary touching; commenting on physical attributes; displaying sexually suggestive pictures; and granting job favors to those who participate in consensual sexual activity.

3. Common effects on the victims

3.1 Common professional, academic, financial, and social effects on the individuals

* Decreased work or school performance; increased absenteeism

* Loss of job or career, loss of income

* Having to drop courses, change academic plans, or leave school (loss of tuition)

* Having one's personal life offered up for public scrutiny--the victim



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