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Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. It is defined by the EEOC as:

"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."

I applied for a job and the hiring manager said he would give me the job if I went out with him. Is this legal?

Whenever there is either a promise or threat made in exchange for sex as a term or condition of employment, sexual harassment exists. This type of sexual harassment is called quid pro quo (Latin for "this for that"). If the threat or promise is made by a supervisor or agent of the company, both the company and the person making the threat are liable.

Is it sexual harassment if someone makes an inappropriate comment to me?

A single comment is usually not sufficient to create a claim for harassment. If the comment or comments are repetitive, they could create what the courts refer to as a "hostile work environment."

What other types of behaviors can create a hostile work environment?

There are a number of behaviors that, if pervasive, can create a hostile work environment. They can best be grouped into three categories: Verbal, nonverbal and physical.




Is it still harassment even if I do not mind the off-color jokes?

One of the requirements for sexual harassment to exist is that the conduct or behavior is unwelcome. If this condition is not met, then harassment may not be present. An issue may be created for others, however. Though you may not be offended, someone else who hears the joke may be. It is best not to engage in this type of behavior at work.

Do some people just ask for suggestive comments by their dress or provocative behavior?

Within reason, individuals have the right to determine what they wear. One's personal opinion of whether a coworker's appearance is provocative does not provide the right to sexually harass that person.

I work with someone that I am attracted to. If I ask her out could I be subject to a claim of harassment?

It is highly unlikely. Some statistics show that as many as 40 percent of all individuals meet their spouse at work. Harassment rules were not implemented to inhibit dating. The most likely situation where a problem could arise is if the person asking for the date is told there is no interest and they continue to make requests.

CAUTION: Supervisors should not ask subordinates out. The nature of their role in having a say on promotions, transfers, work hours and other terms and conditions of employment greatly increases the risk of a harassment claim being lodged against them.

My supervisor is the same sex as me and has been making unwelcome suggestive comments. I am not gay and he is making me feel very uncomfortable. Is this harassment?

Sexual harassment need not be between opposite sexes. It is possible for a man to harass a man or a woman to harass a woman. What is required is that the basis of the harassment be sex.

How does sexism tie in with the issue of sexual harassment?

Sexism occurs when attitudes promote stereotyping of roles based on gender. If an individual takes actions toward someone else based on a stereotype, and the actions are unwelcome, sexual harassment may exist.

Does a comment or conduct have to be sexual to be considered harassment?

No. If a supervisor yells only at his female staff and not his male staff, this could be considered sexual harassment.

What is the best way to deal with a harasser?

The best way to deal with someone who is harassing you is to confront him. More often than not an individual is not aware that they are engaging in unwelcome behavior and need only to be told. In cases where confronting is not appropriate, tell your supervisor, the human resources head or the person designated in your company to receive sexual harassment complaints.

If a coworker harasses me, what should I do?

You should report the harassment to your supervisor or the designated employer representative as soon as possible. It is important that you document the evidence in your complaint. This includes keeping copies of any offensive material as well as detailed notes of instances, witnesses and frequency of occurrences. Your company then has an obligation to take action to stop the harassment. If the company fails to act on your complaint, you can file a complaint with the EEOC.

Must the harasser be another employee?

No. The harasser can be the delivery person, a vendor, a client or anyone else who comes into the workplace. You must give notice to your employer so that the company can remedy the situation.

What are my employer's responsibilities with respect to sexual harassment?

Employers have a number of responsibilities:

TIP: It is good practice to investigate complaints as soon as possible. Doing so will show the company's willingness to act decisively and eliminate undesirable behavior.

What steps can I take to ensure that I am not harassing someone else?

The best way is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Would you say the same thing in front of your mate?
  2. Would you say it if it would be quoted in the newspaper?
  3. Would you say it to a member of the same sex in exactly the same way?
  4. Why does this need to be said? What business purpose is being advanced?
  5. Is there an unfair use of power between you and the person you are interacting with?

Do I have any responsibilities with respect to dealing with harassment?

Yes. It is important that you support your coworkers and friends. If you see harassment take place, encourage the person who is being harassed to report it. If they are unwilling, you may wish to do so. What is important to remember is that harassment is not about sex but about power, so it is likely that not only is your friend is being harassed but others are as well.

When can I file a complaint with the EEOC?

A complaint may be filed at any time with the EEOC or your State Division of Human Rights. The numbers for both should be in the Blue Pages of your phone book. The EEOC will begin investigating once it receives your complaint. Usually, they send an information request to your employer. They will try to determine if there were other complaints, how pervasive the problem, is if it all, and what appropriate actions should be taken.

What steps are normally followed in a sexual harassment investigation?

Once the company receives a complaint, it is under an obligation to investigate. The steps are as follows:

  1. Interview the target. The target is the person who is bringing the complaint. Questions should include when, where, how often the inappropriate behavior has taken place, whether or not there are any witnesses, if the offender was confronted and the relationship between the two parties.
  2. Interview the witnesses. See if anyone has firsthand knowledge of what occurred. Also establish what their relationship is to the parties to help eliminate bias. After speaking with firsthand witnesses, speak with those who may have indirect knowledge.
  3. Adjust the workplace if necessary. If the harassment is ongoing or if the parties work together, find ways to diffuse the situation.
  4. Interview the alleged harasser. Get this individual's perspective of what happened. Be objective when interviewing. Ask questions based on the information obtained from the target and the witnesses.
  5. Make a determination. Evaluate all the facts and balance the weight of the evidence.
  6. Severity of discipline. If harassment is found to have taken place, take the appropriate action. This will be determined by the severity of the offense, your company policy, whether the alleged harasser is a repeat offender and what your company may have done in similar situations.
  7. Inform the parties. Get back to the target and let that person know that action has been taken. Have the supervisor institute any discipline or corrective changes recommended for the harasser.

CAUTION: An accusation alone of sexual harassment can harm a person's reputation. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that all parties maintain confidentiality throughout the entire investigative process.

What happens if the investigation has no definitive result?

The parties should be told that the company was unable to substantiate the complaint one way or the other, but that in the event there is a subsequent complaint against the alleged harasser, it will be treated as a second offense.