What is sexual harassment?
According to the EEOC it is “ unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature 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 or offensive environment”. This is not really about sex but it is more about abuse of power. In most cases females have been targeted more than males. According to courts the behavior to be treated, as sexual harassment has to be unwelcome behavior. In order to file a grievance against the harasser it is important to convey the unwelcome action by him. There are two main types of harassment although many behaviors constitute towards sexual harassment. 1. Quid pro quo harassment: This harassment is a condition of employment. The US supreme court has also held that employers are liable for the supervisor’s sexual misconduct towards an employee whether this conduct is conducted with the knowledge of the employer or not. 2. Hostile-environment harassment: Based on the severity of the incidents whether it is one or series of incidents amounts to hostile work environment harassment .In these case employer may avoid liability if it can prove that reasonable care was taken to avoid the problem and the employer had not failed to use the preventive methods.
Background of the Case:
The case of Sexual harassment discussed is the case about Erin Dempsey: Erin Dempsey was an employee in a travelling agency who has been working very diligently and late hours to secure the position of a senior travel agent. One of these days she was working on a travel report analysis late night to ensure that the report was ready before the deadline her boss Ron Hanson had mentioned to her. The deadline was the next day and she was frantically working on it when her co-worker MattOwens walked into her office. She knew he was an obnoxious, dirty old jerk who was self centered and egoistic and was desperately trying to avoid a conversation with him. He however tried to misbehave and made absurd comments at her and was trying to convince her to come on a date with him. She felt miserable and furious and tried telling him that she was working on an important report and would be more than happy if she was left alone. But then sensing the situation getting worse she decided to walk out of the room when he tried stopping but she was beyond loss of words to even shout back at him and she left rushing leaving the work place.
The next day she reports to the owner of the travel agency Daryl Kolendich the difficulties she faced working the previous night and the misbehavior of the coworker Mattowens. She felt that reporting this to the owner would help her in getting justice and bring in disciplinary action against the coworker. However things overturned and the owner felt that the problem should have been handled at her own end rather then bringing it to the management. Moreover he felt that Matt Owens belonged to a different generation and found it difficult to work with women. He also held Erin partly responsible for the situation and his opinion was to help herself by not encouraging Matt into a situation like this.
Although this conversation left Erin unconvinced she continued to tell her boss that she was not interested in Matt and she was willing to obey her boss and expected him to take action against Matt. Her boss very clearly explained to her that neither himself nor her boss Ross had ever requested any sexual favors from her as an employment condition. He felt that the incident was not a case of sexual harassment and Erin needed to personally handle the situation.
The situation probably would have been differently handled had she reported the matter directly to her boss Ron Hanson. That would have been the right approach, as he would have conveyed the message to the management in a more efficient manner and ensured that disciplinary action was taken against Matt Owens. When reporting abuses in a work environment it is always better to involve our supervisor or a senior employee and if the organisation has an HR department to approach them . Directly approaching the management may sometimes fireback and worsen the situation. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment constitute sexual harassment. In the above case Matt Owens had made unwelcome comments and his verbal conduct was very evident of sexual harassment. Employers are liable for the supervisor’s sexual misconduct towards an employee whether this conduct is conducted with the knowledge of the employer or not. In the above situation the employer was informed about the incident but failed to take the necessary disciplinary actions. Based on the incident it amounts to hostile work environment harassment .The employer has not taken any actions to address the problem and has refused to take moral responsibility for the situation. Sexual harassment is emotionally loaded due to the involvement of both sex and power. It is confusing to both the target and the harasser. In small firms where the boundaries are not laid for the employers,they work closely for the success of the firms and their relationships often turn intimate. The closeness and intensity often make them cross the professional boundaries. Policies and procedures implemented by the management can bring changes in the work environment . A formal written policy in the business place can protect them legally as they can prove that preventive measures were taken and gain the trust of the employees that they are safe working . Written guidelines should include the following:
- An employee or person of the company should be assigned to receive reports that an employee or person is being ill treated based on gender. - The procedure to address the issues and the authority should be detailed. - Managers should make sure every employee has a copy of the policy and the updated policy should be provided to employees every year. - Any employee who believes he or she has been the target of sexual harassment should be educated to inform the offending person orally or in writing that such conduct is unwelcome and offensive and must stop immediately. -If the employee does not wish to communicate directly with the offending person, or if such communication has been ineffective, the employee should develop multiple avenues for reporting allegations of sexual harassment. Effects of Sexual Harassment on the Victim
-Performance decreases due to the psychological effects of harassment. -Absenteeism increases at the work place.
-Fear of retaliation from the harasser.
-They become the object of humility and gossip.
- They get the feeling that their character and reputation is impacted. - Impact on career.
- Loss of references.
Sexual harassment is the biggest growing problem in our society. Be it schools, universities or corporates all of them have started to adopt anti - harassment policies. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances. The most important part of sexual harassment is that it is one sided and uninvited. Most often the victim feels guilty for the harassment but it is very important to understand that it is not their mistake and fault lies on the person harassing. Most incidents happen to women who do the rational men jobs like of a police officer or working in the warehouse. Harassed individuals are mostly young, single or members belonging to a minority group or who have a supervisor of the opposite sex. With the broad definition of sexual harassment it becomes difficult for courts to decide. However it is for us to ensure we are safe and in a situation of these crises to ensure we make a note of the incidents. Few things can be noted like -When, where and what time the incident happened.
- Names of the offender and the witnesses.
-Reporting of the incident to the concerned authorities
Sexual Harassment is all about power and not attraction. It may happen again and again and there is always a chance of worsening. Any type of sexual behavior should not be tolerated. Despite greater education and awareness sexual harassment has always remained a concern.
The government numbers suggest that workplace conditions have been improving and as per the claims reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there has been a decline of the numbers since a decade. But numbers do not mean everything.as there may be several victims who may not find it worthy of reporting or complaining. When the economy is on downturn employees fail to report for fear of losing the job that may be an added reason for the reduction in numbers.
As per EEOC it doesn’t see a reason for the decline but for the fear of retaliation of some individuals.Today we see a growing number of companies have set up policies and procedures to handle the problem internally. With the rise of women in the workforce it has helped them in handling the situations with great confidence.