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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Usually sexual harassment describes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion, and it applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. This paper will discuss sexual harassment, what can be done to prevent it, as well as the course of action after it has taken place.

Keywords:  Sexual Harassment, workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem that is pervasive and not easily cured. It is against the law to harass somebody, whether it be an applicant or an employee because of that person’s sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made sexual discrimination in the workplace illegal; however, sexual harassment was not defined until the 1980's when the EEOC formulated guidelines to define sexual harassment. Harassment can include sexual harassment, which is the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. Sexual harassment also includes requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex or even the unwanted display of pornographic materials. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. (Doyle, 2014)

Although the law doesn’t have anything against simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision, where a victim being could possibly be fired or demoted. (Doyle, 2014)

There are many ways that sexual harassment can affect the workplace. Sexual harassment exposes employers to several risks. Some of these risks include loss of productivity of the victims, fear and mistrust among employees and a loose ethical conduct in other issues. It is also a risk that employers are exposed to lawsuits of sexual harassment and are obliged to compensate victims when it is proved that managers did not do enough to prevent such a behavior prematurely and/or failed to respond properly to a reported harassment. (Hersch, 2015)

There is much confusion and debate regarding about what makes a comment or action sexual harassment. One may claim that any unwanted verbal remark with sexual content is sexual harassment, but may also say that it contradicts freedom of speech and for the most part prevents any personal expression of people at work. Furthermore, as many cases show, former and current employees use sexual harassment claims to hurt other employees or employers, such as suing a manager as a revenge for firing. The best method to prevent sexual harassment and doubtful cases, managers should clearly define the issue, establish proper means of reporting and conduct sexual harassment training at all levels. The same holds true to other forms of harassment, either among employees or with external parties, such as “aggressive” behavior of salespeople and forceful conduct with debtors. (Smolensky, 2014)

There is also another form of sexual harassment. One that is harder to control and intervene with, “textual harassment.” Textual harassment is sexual harassment occurring via social media or via text message. Textual harassment is on the rise and potentially a nightmare for human resources professionals.  In traditional sexual harassment, human resource professionals can generally assume that the harassment they are concerned with takes place within the boundaries of the office.  However, just as social media blur the line between “work” and “not work”, textual harassment blurs the responsibilities of management regarding sexual harassment.  If an employee makes a comment that is perceived as harassing via social media to another employee, is it the organization’s responsibility to act? (Landers, 2013)

Sexual harassment is clearly a major problem for companies and businesses. Employers end up having to spend millions of dollars per year in sexual harassment law suits and liability costs. Also, current U.S. law effectively makes it management's responsibility to implement and enforce programs to prevent and correct harassment. If it is found that they did not, they can end up held more liable. (Buckner, 2014)

A common way to go about preventing sexual harassment is training for employees, especially in positions of authority. Many states are supporting by going so far as to mandate sexual harassment training. However, there is not much research to demonstrate how efficient such training programs are. It is known that training sensitizes people in recognizes harassment. However, no research has been shown that this training helps managers correctly identify the harassment and respond accordingly. (Buckner, 2014)



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