Sexual harassment, as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is "unwelcome sexual advances, 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, hostile or offensive work environment." Though it is understood that sexual harassment can transpire under a number of circumstances, both men and women are a target and not always harassed by the opposite sex. In fact, some victims of sexual harassment may not be the person harassed, but one affected by the offense.
There are two forms of sexual harassment - Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment. Quid Pro Quo harassment occurs when sexual favors are offered (whether accepted or declined) in exchange for hiring position, a possible promotion, increase in pay, or adjustments in work load. Hostile Environment interferes with an employee's work performance. Such conduct includes verbal (sexual jokes, sexually demeaning comments, reference to a person's sex life), non-verbal (sexual gestures, degrading materials, offer of sexually suggestive gifts) and physical (touching, patting, brushing up against a person). Regardless of the form, Sexual Harassment Facts (2011) notes, "Sexual harassment in the workplace is a violation of Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964."
There is great debate as to what is considered acceptable behavior and what constitutes harassment. What one individual may see as casual flirting, another may find offensive. The key point is that for harassment to occur, the conduct itself must be unwelcome. According to Harassment in the Work Place (n.d.), "Since sexual attraction is a normal factor in employee interactions, the distinction between advances that are invited, uninvited-but-welcome, offensive-but-tolerated and flatly rejected may be difficult to discern. This distinction is important because conduct is unlawful when it is unwelcome."
The EEOC must evaluate allegations of sexual harassment on a case-by-case basis. They must review the circumstances, the nature of the sexual advances and the context of the alleged incidents. Statistics show that approximately 15,000 sexual harassment cases are filed with the EEOC every year. According to the Sexual Harassment Statistics in the Workplace (n.d.), "The number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has more than tripled in recent years." A poll conducted on 782 workers, by Louis Harris and Associates revealed the following:
â?¢ 31% of the female workers claimed to have been harassed at work
â?¢ 7% of the male workers claimed to have been harassed at work
â?¢ 62% of targets took no action
â?¢ 100% of women claimed the harasser was a man
â?¢ 59% of men claimed the harasser was a woman
â?¢ 41% of men claimed the harasser was another man
There are many reasons why alleged victims do not report sexual harassment. They include but are not limited to blaming themselves, feelings of hopelessness and embarrassment, they don't know how to report it, they may feel that their complaint will not be taken seriously and the list goes on and on.
I believe that every situation must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I also am in accordance that what one individual refers to sexual harassment another person may view it as flirting. Whether welcome or unwelcome, if an individual feels that they are falling victim to sexual harassment they must take immediate action to correct unwanted behavior. Management must also take a proactive role to train managers and employees because in the end, the employer is ultimately liable. Management must implement policies and reiterate strong disciplinary action for violators of sexual harassment.
When in doubt of comments possibly being construed as sexual harassment, my rule of thumb is to not voice that particular comment.
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