From a U.S. perspective, sexual harassment in the workplace still exists, and it is under better control due to stricter rules and regulations put in place by companies and businesses to protect employees against this invasive behavior. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination that is in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court made employers more liable for sexual harassment of their employees. As a result, most companies offer sexual harassment prevention training programs and 97% have a written sexual harassment policy. The number of grievances filed with the EEOC has gradually decreased over the last decade. Approximately 15,000 sexual harassment cases are brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year. According to them, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has more than tripled in recent years. Currently, approximately 11% of claims involve men filing against female supervisors. In the mid 2000’s, grievances dropped to under 12,000. It has been estimated that only 5 to 15% of harassed women formally report problems of harassment to their employers or employment agencies such as the EEOC.
Counselors in the workplace are often the first person an employee seeks out when someone is acting inappropriately to him or her. In a recent survey, only 29% of women who said they tried to ignore overt sexual suggestions responded that it ‘made it better’. Over 61% of the women said that what made it better and was most effective, was to tell the offender firmly and directly — to “STOP IT”.
There are many offenses of sexual harassment; sexual harassment is not about sex and what bothers one person won’t necessarily bother someone else. Some think that any unwanted touch, sexual comments, or sexual attention is considered sexual harassment. Communicating and telling someone that these acts are offensive to you, may stop the action right then and there. Some people ‘test the waters’ and see how far they can go with individuals in the office.
Also, the above conduct is not sexual harassment if it is welcome or permitted. If you flirt back and indulge in exchanging off-color jokes, it is not sexual harassment if you decide a joke went ‘over the line’ and offended you. You’ve already given out liberal boundaries. It is important to communicate (either verbally, in writing, or by your own actions) to the harasser that the conduct makes you uncomfortable and that you want it to stop.
Sexual harassing behavior may be common, but it is not “normal” Here are some examples:
1] Verbal or written: Comments about yours or others’ clothing, or your personal behavior, or a person’s body; sexual or sex-based jokes; requesting sexual favors or repeatedly asking a person out; sexual innuendoes; telling rumors about a person’s personal or sexual life; threatening a person.
2] Physical: Assault; impeding or blocking movement; inappropriate touching of a person or a person’s clothing; kissing, hugging, patting, stroking.
3] Nonverbal: Looking up and down a person’s body; derogatory gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature; or following a person.
4] Visual: Posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature; most companies have standards of what you can put on your walls.
If the offensive actions above are directed to you, then the following is suggested:
1] Demand that the specific behavior stop. Be direct, firm and say “NO”.
2] Don’t make excuses why you don’t want the behavior; this implies that you would would welcome it otherwise. Don’t protect the harasser or pretend nothing has happened; it has.
3] Stand by your principles and state them. Harassers are good at making excuses and wanting to talk about it. Refuse to discuss the issue with them or be manipulated into thinking you are the wrong one.
4] The focus is on the harasser’s behavior – not yours.
5] Be strong; make eye contact and stand tall. Don’t smile – this is serious; not a social visit. If the harasser tries to make physical contact with you, grasp his or her arm away and say, “NO”. “DO NOT TOUCH ME”.
6] Tell others about the ordeal(s). If you are silent, it not only protects the harasser, but may instill him or her to be bolder.
The conduct of the harasser must either be severe or it must be pervasive to be sexual harassment. A single incident is probably not sexual harassment unless it is severe. If you feel it is, document any harassments and keep a log of when and what happened; include dates and if there were any witnesses. Save your emails on a CD and bring it home. Also bring home any notes, mail or emails that are related even if they are anonymous.
Try to have a buddy available as a deterrent or as a witness when this person tries to approach you. Document any actions involving your harassment if the harasser is in a supervisory position and subsequently gives you a poor evaluation or demotions, and keep copies of them. Likewise, keep similar positive evaluations or performance appraisals before the alleged incidents that will show changed behavior of the perpetrator’s part.
Go ahead with formal complaints with Human Resources and EEO, if it continues. Try to have as much documented proof and/or witnesses who can verify what has happened or seek others who may have had the same problem with the harasser. Consult with a legal entity if you suspect violence or stalking. Remember to stay calm. You did nothing wrong. Staying calm is important to your cause so as not to create a hostile environment in the workplace that it becomes a problem for the department and you become the problem, too. The harasser is hoping you do that to keep the spotlight off of them. The odds are on your side to have this situation remedied.
True Case: A long-time married employee kept asking another married employee for constant coffee breaks, lunch, dinner, etc. She always turned him down. She came to Human Resources when she asked him not to keep coming to her office and he still did, still asking. He started to put his arm around her and she asked him not to. She filed a complaint. She noticed one weekend that he was driving around her neighborhood although he lived a far distance away from her. She filed a complaint with EEO and he was terminated; he lost his benefits as he was under retirement age and subsequently was divorced.
If you are being sexually harassed, do something today. You won’t lose your job. Don’t think it will go away, or worry if it is a supervisor or high level manager, that you will lose your job. You won’t. But they might.
references: Sexual Harassment Support ; and www.SexualHarassmentLawFirms.com
Marie Coppola Revised July 2014