Charges alleging sexual harassment – the ones filed to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – for the fiscal year 2017, are well above 12,000.
Sexual harassment is a continued reality of the workplace that men and women both must suffer through despite the advancements in the protective procedures and laws. Here’s everything you should know about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual Harassment Definition
According to the US EEOC, sexual harassment is a type of discrimination or criminal act, which violates Title VII Of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and is defined as:
“Unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when 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.”
Types of Sexual Harassment
From a legal standpoint, there are two types of sexual harassment. They include:
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment
- Hostile work environment sexual harassment
There is also a third type of sexual harassment, third-party sexual harassment, which also holds up in legal defense.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase, which literally translates to ‘this for that’.
A quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when vital workplace decisions are made on the basis of a person’s submission or rejection of an unwanted sexual advance or overture. For example, the hiring, discipline, termination, or promotion is based on a person’s acceptance of a sexual advance. If there is any link between the denial or granting of any type of employee benefit and a sexual advance, then it qualifies as quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment is where sexual harassment occurs when the unwelcome sexual advance creates an offensive or intimidating working environment that directly affects an employee’s ability to do their job. For a case to classify as a hostile work environment sexual harassment, it is not necessary for an individual to have suffered from tangible work-related consequences, including economic consequences or otherwise.
Third-party sexual harassment is a little tricky in nature from a legal standpoint. In such cases, the person harassed or offended by a hostile work environment may not be the direct target or participant in the harassment itself. It is often related to a bystander who cannot avoid observing or being a witness to unwelcome sexual advances.
What Constitutes as Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment may be verbal, non-verbal, or physical. Apart from the actual sexual assault or attempt to rape, it can include a number of things, such as:
- Unwelcomed deliberate touching, cornering, or leaning over
- Unwanted sexual looks or gestures – blatant or otherwise
- Making suggestive or sexual facial expressions to someone, such as throwing kisses, licking lips, or winking
- Unwelcome pressure or threat for sexual favors or dates
- Brushing up or standing close to another person so as to crowd their personal space
- Touching or rubbing one’s self inappropriately around another person
- Following an individual or blocking their path
- Consistently staring at someone
- Displaying sexually suggestive visuals directly to or around someone
- Referring to someone with sexually suggestive names
- Whistling or catcalling
- Making unwanted sexual jokes
- Making sexual comments or throwing sexual innuendos
- Asking personal questions
Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
While sexual harassment is often directly reported to and managed by the human resources department of an organization, maintaining a healthy working environment is not limited to HR practices. Managers or supervisors can do a number of things to ensure workforce safety by effectively managing and preventing sexual harassment from taking place.
Employers, managers, and top-tier supervisors are often oblivious to a sexually hostile work environment. This is not because they are unconcerned, but rather because they’re bogged down with other essential responsibilities that render them unable to keep a check on the environment themselves.
The best way to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace is to periodically inspect and observe the working environment for any untoward happenings. Monitor the workplace, converse with your employees, and communicate with the management to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.
Adopt a Strict Sexual Harassment Policy
To prevent sexual harassment, it is necessary that a strict workforce safety program with a stern sexual harassment policy is in place – one that all employees are well aware of. The policy should clearly identify the acceptable and unacceptable behavioral parameters, and the consequences, economic and legal, for sexual harassment complaints.
Adopting a strict policy against discrimination also involves taking and treating every concern and complaint seriously. Dismissing a sexual harassment complaint can become troublesome for you because employers are held responsible as transgressors in the court of law.
Educate and Train Everyone
From employees to managers and supervisors, every single person at an organization needs to be well versed in the parameters of sexual harassments and workforce safety. This means organizing mandatory workforce safety trainings, such as Preventing Sexual Harassment, to educate and train them in order to effectively handle and avoid unwanted sexual advances.