Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Given the highly publicized charges of sexual
harassment recently raised by employees against their supervisors and
co-workers, employers are on notice to take a proactive approach to addressing
Today’s news is filled with attention-grabbing headlines
and stories of workers who accuse their bosses and colleagues of sexual
harassment. While much of the attention has been focused on high-profile
perpetrators and victims from the sports and entertainment industries to the
political arena, no workplace – whether in Hollywood or Casa Grande – is immune
to the potentially devastating legal and financial consequences associated with
a hostile work environment.
It is more important than ever for employers to take the
initiative to keep harassing conduct out of their workplace and out of the news.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and
can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other
verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
One type of sexual harassment is known as quid pro quo
harassment, where the employer explicitly or implicitly conditions a job, a job
benefit, or the absence of a job detriment upon the employee’s acceptance of
Another type of sexual harassment is known as hostile
environment harassment, where the employer’s harassing conduct is severe and
pervasive – i.e., frequent, physically threatening or humiliating – and
unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.
THE HARASSER AND THE VICTIM
The harasser may be a man or a woman; a direct boss or a
manager in another part of the company; a colleague; and even a non-employee,
such as a customer or supplier.
Similarly, the victim may be a man or a woman, and can
be the opposite or same gender as the harasser. The victim does not have to be
the employee who is being harassed; he or she can be any co-worker who is
affected by the offensive conduct.
The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome, and it
generally must rise above a level of simple teasing, offhand comments, or
isolated incidents that are not truly serious.
To help keep the workplace free of sexual harassment,
and to reduce liability for any harassing behaviors that do occur, employers
should have and enforce written sexual harassment policies that clearly
communicate to employees that prohibited conduct will not be tolerated. Evidence
of employer commitment in preventing sexual harassment might include doing the
• Provide harassment prevention training to managers,
supervisors and other employees.
• Implement a complaint mechanism or grievance system
that requires harassment reports to be channeled to multiple persons.
• Ensure that when an employee complains of harassing
behavior, a properly trained person promptly investigates the complaint.
• In situations where an employer knows (or should
know) of harassing conduct, take prompt and reasonable remedial action
calculated to end the harassment.
• Keep records of harassment reports to ascertain
whether a pattern of harassment exists.
Employers need to take a proactive approach to keep
sexual harassment out of the workplace. By having and enforcing effective
policies, employers can help eliminate the offensive conduct and protect their
organization from potentially devastating consequences.
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