The world today boasts a diverse workforce in almost all the leading industrial and commercial sectors. The equal employment of men and women has restructured thousands of companies worldwide. Women today, take up employment alongside men in every sector that bolster merit based evaluation and compensation; from NASA to the marines, from telemarketers to stockbrokers, from the Broadway stage to Hollywood, women have pierced markets that were long held as forte by men. Although the economy gains significantly as a result of enterprising women, it also presents a dark side. Workplace bullying, workplace sexual harassment and even sexual assault threaten to destabilize the once prided “American Dream”. Nowadays, the above mentioned atrocities at the workplace are not limited to women alone however, the numbers are far apart. Women record an enormous reception of 67% of workplace demeanor while men record 17% per year. (Henderson 2014)
Workplace bullying is very common and sometimes not even realized by the victim. A staggering 96% of the country’s workforce is subject to bullying at the workplace in some form. It involves yelling in front of co-workers, setting impossible targets, never giving credit where it’s due and overburdening assignments are some manifestations. (Namie 2014) Bullying in the workplace has no legal repercussions despite the damage it inflicts on the victim. Furthermore, 77% of the victims elect to leave their jobs when the bullying intensifies. (Shavin 2014)
Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome gesture or touching towards the recipient by a supervisor, co-worker, client or manager. There are over fifteen thousand complaints recorded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sexual harassment in the workplace. There are several forms of sexual harassment. The list includes,
- Sexually laced comments, text messages and emails.
- Unnecessary touching.
- Standing too close.
- Setting up situations where the victim and abuser are alone.
- Commenting on body attributes/attire.
- Displaying pornographic material.
- Sexually induced talks – jokes, activities or acts.
- Threats of firing, suspension for rejecting sexual advances.
- Using offensive language and demeaning terms to address.
Sexual harassment is outlawed in the Unites States of America’s federal law. However, the commercial and industrial sectors defer strict action against offenders. The company proclaimed sexually harassment policies allows the perpetrators to get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist most often. Complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequent lawsuits usually bring relief for sexual harassment victims. (Broderick 2013)
Sexual assault is defined as a forceful act of sexual conduct up on the recipient. Workplace sexual assault is rare. Workplace sexual assault includes forced intercourse, forced sodomy and attempted rape.
Organizations are required to incorporate a sexual harassment policy and spread awareness about them among their staff. The process involves steps to be taken by employees, victims, supervisors, human resource personnel and the senior management. The process requires a panel of impartial managers to investigate each complaint and settle the matter appropriately.
What to do when faced with a possible harassment situation?
Although an organization defines the strictest sexual harassment policy, the going gets unusually tough when it’s time to act on it. Moreover, only big corporate take any action and even then, the star employees usually get away with it. Furthermore, sexual harassment policies are redundant in most small businesses or family-owned companies. The challenge of implementation is quite apparent noticing the massive influx of complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission every year. However, before a victim of sexual harassment approaches the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are some avenues to explore. (Rosenfeld 2014)
The victims of sexual harassment should prepare an air-tight case against the perpetrator especially if it’s from a supervisor or star employee. Evidence should be gathered diligently. Email messages, texts, voice recording of calls on mobile phones, ledger of incidents; dates, time frame, incident information, etc. Moreover, sharing the information with a trusted co-worker; preferably someone senior with high standing within the organization. Gathering information on fellow victims bolsters the victims’ case against the perpetrator.
Confronting the harasser and threatening to complain works at times with the harasser leaving their victims alone. If this does not work, victims should lodge a complaint with their immediate supervisors or department managers. If there is no action taken at this level or if threats emerge to withdraw the complaint, the victim should lodge a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Subsequently law suits can be filed for damages against the organization.
Managers of sexual harassment victims should ensure that all complainants are taken seriously irrespective of who they complain against. Moreover, harassers are usually well rooted in the organization with strong ties to the senior management. Hence, an impartial approach is absolutely essential. The evidence should be screened effectively and the guilty not spared leniently.
Human resource supervisors should conduct an investigation into the complaint and gather additional evidence to corroborate or challenge the allegations. They should consider previous complaints and exit interview forms that support the victim’s complaint. They should assume the role of the impartial investigator and provide support for victimized employees.
The senior management of any organization should provide assurance to their employees through their actions. Letting go of a star employee on sexual harassment charges reflects the integrity of the senior management team. These actions fortify employee morale and boost production. Any attempt to ignore complaints or punishing offenders with light punishment proves expensive nowadays. Furthermore lawsuits reel in twenty-eight million US dollars in damages every year over sexual harassment.
Effective ways to generate awareness
Human resource personnel, usually tasked with defining company policies should utilize the guidelines prescribed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission while commissioning the sexual harassment policy. They need to create a policy that exhibits zero-tolerance towards sexual harassment.
Easy to understand posters
Posters are an effective way to get the message across. They not only discourage would-be perpetrators, they also enforce the crux of organizational commitment to eliminate the menace. Creative posters also educate employees on what amounts to sexual harassment.
Awareness meetings for different levels
Policies in handbooks or intranet websites are difficult to interpret. Furthermore, we have multi-cultural workforces contemporarily. Hence, awareness meetings should be conducted to different levels of employees with a different purview for each level.
There are employees who might not know that certain behavior is considered as sexual harassment. Human resource teams need to conduct quarterly workshops for employees on the various aspects of sexual harassment. This instruction empowers them to question any unwarranted behavior that they might have tolerated earlier. Workshops also allow self learning for unconscious harassers and allow room for cleaning up their act.
Publishing case studies on popular sexual harassment lawsuits reiterate to employees the management’s zero tolerance of sexual harassment.
There are unconscious offenders in every organization who aren’t aware that some of their actions might actually sum up to sexual harassment. These employees, if they come forward and seek assistance, should be offered the chance to clean up. Hence, tie-ups with rehabilitation centers are essential.
Regular skip-level meetings
There should be regular skip-level meetings across grades in the organization to allow the management to keep tabs of any possible sexual harassment situations. Prevention is always better than cure; as the saying goes. This holds good for sexual harassment. Eventually, even habitual harassers will choose to defer their harmful behavior in the workplace if there are effective checkpoints.
Shavin, Naomi (2014). What Workplace Bullying Looks Like In 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/naomishavin/2014/06/25/what-work-place-bullying-looks-like-in-2014-and-how-to-intervene/
Henderson, Maureen J (2014). When It Comes To Workplace Sexism, Millennial Women Suffer Most. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2014/03/11/when-it-comes-to-workplace-sexism-millennial-women-suffer-most/
Broderick, Timothy B. (2013). A victim’s guide to sexual harassment. Retrieved from: http://www.sexualharassmentlawyersanjose.com/using-your-strengths-to-overcome-sexual-harassment/
Rosenfeld, Larry (2014). Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies. Retrieved from: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/80140
Namie, Gray (2014) .You could be bullied at work and not recognize it Know the signs. Retrieved from: http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/being-bullied/