I’ve had several conversations with different people recently about the ongoing sexual harassment allegations that are now part of our daily news feeds. What surprised me the most was that many that I’ve spoken to are keenly aware of commonly reported violations as sexual harassment – touching, kissing, etc., but there were quite a few who didn’t know that other behaviors could be considered harassment and get them in deep trouble. Hopefully your employer has dusted off their sexual harassment policies to make updates and implemented training because this is a hot topic that isn’t going to cool down any time soon. If your HR department has decided to stay away from the topic for the foreseeable future, allow me to drop some knowledge and educate someone so that they’re aware and not end up in the news, grapevine, or water cooler chat like other accusers.
The textbook definition of sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Two types of sexual harassment are recognized by the federal law: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo or “this for that” happens when someone offers you something in exchange for something else. For example, a manager could say that s/he will promote you to a higher position if you go out with him/her – you will get this promotion for that date. A hostile work environment exists once you’re uncomfortable or the workplace has become difficult because of frequent unwanted advances, comments, or requests.
You probably also didn’t know that harassment doesn’t have to be physical. A coworker could hang up a picture of Halle Berry as the crackhead from Jungle Fever and someone could file a sexual harassment grievance. If it causes someone to feel offended or the behaviors are unwanted, then you’re flirting (no pun intended) with being accused of sexual harassment. Offenses can be written, verbal, or visual. Some examples include:
• Jokes • Remarks • Stories • Calls • Emails • Videos • Gifts • Staring at someone • Following someone • Looking a person up and down • Screensavers • Whistling • Asking about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity
If you’re guilty of any these behaviors in the workplace or any behavior remotely close to what’s listed then I highly recommend that you stop immediately, ask whomever you need to ask for forgiveness, atone for your sins, speak to someone in your HR department, or seek legal advice – whatever you need to do because victims are finally finding the courage to speak out. Every day someone comes forward to share their story, and careers for the accused are severely damaged. If you have experienced any of these behaviors at work then you should first tell the harasser to stop. Speak with your HR department or submit an inquiry online with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
I trust that this information is helpful to someone. You may find more information about sexual harassment at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm. I’d like to hear your thoughts or additional resources to share with someone who may have experienced sexual harassment. Share this with anyone who may need a quick in-service training.
As always, thanks for stopping by!