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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Executive Summary

Sexual harassment is an ongoing issue faced in most occupations and industries. It can lead to toxic, unhealthy work conditions for all members in an organization. In this report, we identify and explain the challenges associated with sexual harassment in today's organizations; followed by, recommendations and strategies that can assist organizations in managing these challenges effectively. Our research is conducted mainly through the web and the resources used are primarily from academic journals and books.

To begin, we introduce sexual harassment and its workplace relationship by giving an overview. Generally, sexual harassment in the workplace can be defined as unwelcome or inappropriate behaviours of a sexual nature. The two main subjects of sexual harassment are coercion and annoyance. In the workplace, they either affect an individual's employment decisions or create an offensive work environment. Potential costs associated with sexual harassment would incur in both organizations and the individual employees.

Next, we discuss six main current Human Resource (HR) challenges and implications. The challenges caused by sexual harassment in the workplace are that it can create an uncomfortable environment for employees, lawsuits that can result in costly amounts and ultimately give the company a bad reputation, lack of discretion during investigations of sexual harassment, the perception of what sexual harassment is, obtaining proof during an investigation, and different perceptions of sexual harassment due to cultural differences and diversity in a workplace.

Furthermore, we provide five possible recommendations that can be implemented in organizational environments to reduce the risk factors involved with such harassment. These include a code of conduct/contracts to be read and signed by new employees, updating employee's knowledge via eLearning, sexual awareness training, publicizing the company's harassment policies, and treating all complaints and allegations seriously.

Our goal is to provide additional resolutions to the potential threats of sexual harassment in any workplace. The objective is not only to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, but if issues arise, companies will be able to effectively deal with the incident causing minimal damage. The main priority regarding sexual harassment in the workplace is to ensure that employees understand that the organization has every member's well-being in mind and that they will take necessary precautions to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.


Sexual harassment is one of the most prominent barriers to career success. "Sixty-four percent of women say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment during their careers, and 48 percent of women executives say they left a job because of an inhospitable organizational culture and harassment" (Dessler & Cole, 2008, p. 33). Although, there is a sufficient amount of research in favour of harassment directed towards women in the workplace, research indicates that lower rates of males are targeted as well (Uggen & Blackstone, 2004).

In organizations, potential costs associated with sexual harassment include: legal fees resulting from litigation, undesirable publicity, and negative effects on recruitment of new employees. For existing employees, decreased retention, lower productivity, and increased absenteeism are some results of sexual harassment in the workplace. Preventing sexual harassment and defending employees from sexual harassment charges have become key goals of legal decision-making in many organizations.

In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (E.E.O.C.) defined sexual harassment as: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when a) submission to such conduct was made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, b) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual was used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or c) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment (Willness, 2007).

In a workplace, sexual harassment can be divided into two main types, coercion and annoyance. Sexual coercion involves "the harassment of a sexual nature that results in some direct consequence to the worker's employment status or some gain in or loss of tangible job benefits" which is also known as a) and b) from the definition of E.E.O.C. (Dessler & Cole, p. 33). Typically, it involves managers and supervisors who coerce or persuade employees to engage in unwanted sexual activities by using control over pay, promotion, and performance appraisals. For example, when an employee consents to sexual activity, promotion and favourable job benefits will follow; however, if the employee rejects the sexual advancements, job benefits will be denied. Sexual annoyance can be interpreted as "sexually related conduct that is hostile, intimidating, or offensive to the employee but has no direct link to tangible job benefits or loss thereof" which is also known as c) from the definition of E.E.O.C. (Dessler & Cole, p. 33). Unlike coercion, it does not influence the job benefits of a victim; however, sexual annoyance creates a "poisoned" work environment for employees, thus possibly affecting their ability to continue working and it may exist even if no direct threats or promises are made. Behaviours, such as offensive physical contact, sexual taunts, lewd comments and gestures, would fall into this category.

Every employer is duty-bound by law to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Although sexual harassment is now reduced by the Human Rights Legislation and other regulations, it is still a common issue that many organizations face today. Challenges proposed by sexual harassment can lead to serious consequences for the company. It is led to believe that the ultimate aim is to eliminate sexual harassment and the relative losses in any workplace.

Current HR Challenges

In today's workplace there are many HR challenges when it comes to sexual harassment. Each one is just as important, but we decided to touch upon six main HR challenges regarding sexual harassment.

1) Could make employees feel uncomfortable in the workplace

One of the most common challenges in HR is the fact that sexual harassment creates an uncomfortable work environment that



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