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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In this case, Amanda Chan is the Human Resources Manager for GeneTech and is concerned about the work environment. She overheard a conversation taking place between several of the company’s sales representatives. When returning from lunch break, Toby Warren, a senior rep asked David Goldman, a junior rep the following questions: Do you have fantasies about the other men in the office? Do you wear women’s clothing at home? Is Scarlett Johansson “hot enough to set you straight”? The other reps laughed at these comments. Amanda noticed that David seemed annoyed by Toby’s actions and subsequently asked David to have a meeting with her. Amanda was concerned about the incident and David’s feeling about it. David admitted that he was bothered by Toby, but that he is also a valued member of the sales team. He then demanded that Amanda should not make a big deal out of this, citing his potential for promotion as a reason. Amanda is now faced with a dilemma about what action should be taken.

Before Amanda can consider taking an action, it must be determined if Toby’s actions constitute sexual harassment. According to Edmund Wall in “A Definition of Sexual Harassment”, he states that sexual harassment is determined by the following conditions. First, the perpetrator must not attempt to obtain consent of the victim to discuss his/her sexual interest. The victim must also not give consent to discuss the issue. Moreover, the perpetrator must gain any sort of benefit from his/her actions. And lastly, the victim must experience distress from the actions of the perpetrator. All four conditions must be satisfied to constitute sexual harassment (Wall, 1991). It is not apparent that David has given consent to discuss his sexuality nor has Toby tried to attain his consent. While Toby may not be displaying a sexual advance towards David, one could argue that he is only making these jokes because the other co-workers find it funny. Therefore, Toby is achieving a social gain due to his comments to David. Although David has not made it clear to Toby that he is bothered by his jokes, he has told Amanda that it makes him uncomfortable. Using Wall’s definition, Toby’s actions constitute sexual harassment. Now that it is established, Amanda must look at her obligations as the HR manager.

Amanda stakeholders are:
Internal
External
Toby Warren
David Goldman
Sales Department
Other employees
Shareholders
Partners (if any)
Investors
Gay and Lesbian rights groups

The Employment Standards Act states that “Every employee is entitled to employment free of sexual harassment” and; “every employer shall make every reasonable effort to ensure that no employee is subject to sexual harassment” (Office, 2010). As an extension of this, Amanda must ensure a safe and stress-free work environment for all employees. Each and every employee must be treated equally with respect to their gender, race, sexual orientation etc. Any employee that violates the law or company code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action. Given this, Amanda can consider these courses of action.

Amanda could simply do nothing at all. This, however, would be a violation of her legal obligations. Doing nothing could also suggest that this type of behaviour is acceptable, thus damaging the company’s reputation. Other reps may be bothered by Toby which could cause a hostile work environment and, in turn, disrupt sales. If the problem between Toby and David becomes out of hand, this may lead to David filing a lawsuit against Toby and, vicariously, the company as well. If the lawsuit goes public, the company could attract unwanted attention from Gay and Lesbian rights groups. This sort of publicity may even cause investors or partners to terminate their involvement with GeneTech; they would not want their companies to be associated with sexual harassment.

She could also fire Toby. The company should have a sexual harassment policy already in place, which most do, and Toby would be in violation of it, thus being grounds for termination. This action seems a bit drastic; Toby could be unaware that he is sexually harassing David. He has never been warned nor has David made his feelings clear to Toby. This could trigger a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against GeneTech. As Toby is a valued member of the sales department, this could also cause a backlash from other sales representatives, potentially causing a loss of sales. If the employees find out the David had spoken to Amanda prior to Toby’s termination, they could make the assumption that David told Amanda to fire Toby. David could then be subject to further harassment as retaliation from other sales representatives. This attention could even jeopardize David’s promotion.

Finally, as permitted under the Employment Standards Act, Amanda could “issue a policy statement concerning sexual harassment”. This would allow Amanda to (1) define sexual harassment and state her obligation to ensure that no employee is subject to sexual harassment; (2) warn employees of appropriate disciplinary actions for any employee that violates the policy; (3) notify employees how they can file complaints concerning sexual harassment and; (4) issue a statement that she “will not disclose the name of a complainant or the circumstances related to the complaint” (Office, 2010). This will allow Amanda to address the situation, while fulfilling her legal obligation and without drawing attention to David.

After evaluating the options, the best course of action would be to issue the policy statement. It would cause the least amount of backlash to David and to the company as a whole. It could be argued that this has no immediate benefit nor does it guarantee that the conflict will be resolved. While this may be true, the statement will make it clear to all employees of what sexual harassment is and the consequence for engaging in it. If Toby persists, then he will be warned by Amanda that his comments are inappropriate and a violation of the terms of the statement. Any and all further violations will be grounds for termination. One could predict that this threat was cause Toby’s actions to subside.
Bibliography

Office, L. C. (2010, December 15). Employment Standard Act. Retrieved from http://www.gov.pe.ca/law/statutes/pdf/e-06_2.pdf
Wall, E. (1991). The Definition of Sexual Harrasment. In R. A. Larmer, Ethics in the Workplace (pp. 140 - 150). Belmont: Wadsworth Group.

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