• How to Recognize and Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

    Sexual harassment is a fact.

    It’s a serious problem that has affected the lives of many people. It’s not something imagined or exaggerated.

    Sexual harassment affects everyone—

    Women and men, workers at all levels and all types of jobs.

    ● Employees may lose
    —dignity, health, and peace of mind
    —even their jobs

    ● Supervisors may lose
    —department teamwork
    —their jobs, too

    ● Employers may lose
    —teamwork and trust
    —talented employees

    According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) sexual harassment is a sexual attention that is:

    ● Unwelcome and unwanted—someone is treated in a way that he or she doesn’t like or look for.
    ● Harmful to employees and employers—it affects the victim’s physical and emotional health and ability to do a good job, and it affects the workplace in general.
    ● Illegal—the U.S. government and courts have clearly stated that sexual harassment is against the law.


    There are two kinds of sexual harassment:

    1. Tangible employment action

    This kind of sexual harassment involves monetary loss or significant change in workload assignment for the employee. It usually occurs within a supervisor/employee relationship in which the supervisor:

    ● Alters employment status—firing, blocking promotion, transferring, or giving a bad evaluation if a person does not go along with sexual advances
    ● Gives rewards—hiring, promoting, or giving a raise if a person does go along

    For example:
    A female secretary’s job is upgraded because she goes along with her boss’s demands for sexual favors.
    A male file-clerk is demoted because he refuses to have an affair with the female office manager.

    2. Hostile environment

    This covers regular and repeated actions, or things displayed around the workplace that “unreasonably interfere” with job performance or create an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive” work environment. A hostile environment may include:

    Sexual pictures, calendars, graffiti, or objects
    Offensive language, jokes, gestures, or comments

    For example:
    A female truck driver has to listen to remarks about her physical characteristics whenever she’s in the garage.
    A male office worker is offended and embarrassed by a “beefcake” photo put up by the female workers.

    Having to work in a place like this can make it almost impossible to do a good job. In court, the standard is what a reasonable person would think is “out of bounds” or interferes with work.


    Recognizing sexual harassment

    Threats and rewards for sexual actions are often clear cut—and clearly wrong. But looking at the environment—deciding which actions are OK and which aren’t—can be confusing.

    Here are some guidelines.

    Sexual harassment is often related to power on the job—someone forcing someone else to put up with or do something they don’t want. It can be:

    ● Physical—such as touching, holding, grabbing, hugging, kissing, “accidental” collisions, other unwanted physical contact, and in the worst cases, physical assault and rape.
    ● Verbal—such as offensive jokes and offensive language, threats, comments, or suggestions of a sexual nature.
    ● Nonverbal—such as staring at a person’s body, leaning over someone at a desk, offensive gestures or motions, circulating letters or cartoons, and other sexually oriented behavior.

    If you’re in doubt, just ask yourself: Would I want my spouse, child, sibling, or parent to be subjected to this behavior?


    Some questions and answers to help you identify sexual harassment:

    Question: Can sexy calendars and pinups on the walls of a warehouse or office be considered sexual harassment?
    Answer: Yes, they can. They may contribute to a hostile work environment.

    Question: Can I ask a co-worker out on a date?
    Answer: Yes, but if the co-worker refuses, you’d best take no for an answer and not pursue the person.

    Question: Can men be victims of sexual harassment?
    Answer: Yes. And they have equal protections under the law.

    Question: I work in a respected professional organization. Can sexual harassment happen here?
    Answer: Yes. Sexual harassment is an abuse of power that happens in all types of jobs and all types of companies.

    Question: Aren’t women too sensitive—making a big deal out of nothing?
    Answer: No. Sexual harassment is a clear and direct threat—it can affect everything about a woman’s job.

    Question: I complained about sexual harassment, and now my supervisor says he might transfer me to a lower paying job.
    Answer: It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate because a person has complained about sexual harassment or discrimination.

    Question: One of our co-workers wears very short skirts. Isn’t she asking for trouble?
    Answer: No. Everyone has the right to do his or her job in a harassment-free workplace. What someone chooses to wear doesn’t change that.


     Your employer is taking steps to prevent and respond to sexual harassment

    Strong measures go a long way toward ensuring a pleasant, fair and respectful workplace.

    Your employer may:

    ● Establish a policy. Employers can create a specific, clear policy by working with employees, and studying model programs and government guidelines. The policy should include possible penalties for harassers.

    ● Establish a procedure. A standard approach means that complaints can be handled:

    —Fairly. The process applies to all workers equally—men and women, employees, supervisors, and management.

    —Confidentiality. Employees’ privacy is protected to the extent possible while complaints are investigated and actions taken.

    —Without fear of reprisal. Employees who engage in protected activity like filing a complaint are protected from retaliation.

    ● Encourage complaints. Complaints will be taken seriously and handled sensitively. Employers may encourage people to use the process by:

    —Providing counseling to all victims
    —Training a support group of employees who can help victims formally and informally
    —Publicizing and supporting the complaint process
    —Prohibiting retaliation against employees who use the complaint process

    Employers can take a strong and effective stand to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Policies will be:

    ● Sensitive to the issue and to its victims
    ● Responsive to the complaints of employees
    ● Active in maintaining a fair and respectful environment


     What YOU can do

    Every employee is legally protected against sexual harassment.

    If you are the target of unwanted sexual attention or behavior:

    ● Respond to the problem. Make your feelings absolutely clear. Sometimes people don’t realize that they’re being offensive.

    ● Record the times, places, and specifics of each incident, including other people who might have observed the incident or your reactions.

    ● Report continuing harassment according to your company policy. If there is no formal policy, report it to your supervisor. If the harasser is your supervisor, go to the person who is responsible for your supervisor’s actions.

    Take action if you observe sexual harassment.

    Help the victim make his or her feelings known.
    Follow company policy.
    Support your co-workers—encourage reporting sexual harassment according to company policy or to a supervisor.

    You’re part of the workplace.

    Make sure you’re not involved in any “inappropriate behavior.”

    Respect your co-workers’ rights to their dignity and their jobs.
    Don’t jump to conclusions based on someone’s dress, actions or physical appearance.
    Remember that “No” means “No!”



    Sexuality is part of our lives. People have always joked with each other, teased, flirted, and kidded around. But…

    …there’s a big difference between good-natured fun and sexual harassment.

    It all depends on how the other person feels.

    And the law says that when the victim feels is most important.

    Remarks or actions may not be intended to hurt anyone, but if they have that effect, they are harassment.


    If you’re offended, don’t hesitate to make that clear to the harasser and to your employer.


    Always think about how others may feel before you speak or act.

    UNDERSTAND SEXUAL HARASSMENT, what it is, and how it affects people and the workplace.

    RESPOND IMMEDIATELY if you are a victim of sexual harassment or if you know someone who is.

    TEACH YOUR CO-WORKERS how to be sensitive to sexual harassment issues and how to defend themselves against unwanted sexual attention.

    WORK WITH YOUR EMPLOYER to make sure that your job environment is harassment free.

    Make TRUST, DIGNITY, and RESPECT the foundations of your workplace.


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